Chicago’s dockless bike-share pilot, launched in May, seeks to correct some of the problems baked in to the controversial model. It features guidelines for geographic equity, for example, and favors companies with lock-to technology (a.k.a., bikes that can be easily secured to racks or poles) over companies with so-called “wheel-lock-only” bikes.
Ofo cited Chicago’s lock-to formula as one motivation for its withdrawal from the city (ultimately, though, the company was just fed up with the U.S. market). But according to the Chicago Reader, even without Ofo the pilot, centered on the city’s far south side, continues to roll along — and a look at its numbers contains some helpful hints for other cities looking to regulate private “DoBi” operators.
For one thing, they need to actually enforce their equity requirements. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Chicago Reader found out that LimeBike was leading its competitors in ridership numbers. The company may have had an edge because it offers electric bikes. But it also may be leading by disregarding certain requirements.
From the paper:
To promote geographic equity, the pilot’s rules require vendors to keep at least 15 percent of their fleets in each of the four service-area quadrants. When I checked out the apps last week, the Pace and Jump bikes were spread fairly evenly across the pilot zone, but almost all of the LimeBikes cycles were clustered within or near Beverly. This majority-white neighborhood is the most affluent community in the pilot zone, as well as the most bike friendly. As such, Beverly is low-hanging fruit for bike share, whose users tend to skew white and wealthier.
The city’s lock-to rules, however, appear to be effective. Maintenance reports obtained by the Reader suggested that vandalism had been rare. But many people the paper spoke with were also unfamiliar about how to use the bikes.
“They just put them out and don’t inform us about how they work,” one person said.
Beyond Chicago, dockless bike-share programs have seen mixed success in U.S. cities, as Next City has covered at length. While some regions have welcomed the start-ups for their upfront affordability, others have set up stringent regulations to limit their operation. Without such regulations, the start-ups “pose a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare,” one particularly wary Sacramento ordinance stated, adding that “derelict self-locking bicycles can become a major cause of blight in both residential and nonresidential neighborhoods.”
But the model has great potential for suburban regions, where cities and towns bleed together and biking between municipal boundaries makes sense. It’s also cheap enough to entice cities that have been slow to adopt any bike-share program.
“Bike-share will be a really powerful addition to the public transportation landscape in New Orleans,” Bike Easy Executive Director Dan Favre told Next City in 2016. “We’ve struggled to get bus service back to where it was before Katrina.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.