A new “stationless” bike-share system launched at SXSW in Austin this month aims to increase ridership by allowing users to park and pick up bikes wherever there’s a bike rack. The system comes from Spin Bikeshare, a San Francisco-based startup. According to Fast Company, its founders trace relatively low bike-share usage in the Bay Area, Seattle and Boston to their docking stations, which “may or may not be near where you actually have to go.”
The company’s website explains the startup’s system: “Spin’s bikes will be parked neatly all across the city, and can be unlocked with a scan from your phone. You can ride them anywhere within the designated service area, and leave them anywhere responsible and legal to park a bike.” A team then goes around and reposition bikes so they don’t get stranded in unpopular locations.
China has a number of stationless bike-shares, and a Chinese company tried to launch something similar to Spin in San Francisco earlier this year. It’s since become less than popular with certain local officials — last month, the planning department issued a warning stating that the company does “not have the required permits to rent its bikes out of public and private parking spaces,” according to the SF Examiner.
Spin founder Derrick Ko (an alum of Lyft), told Fast Company that his company will take a different approach, working “closely with cities before each launch” and sponsoring bike racks where users can drop their bikes. And although Spin could end up in competition with city-run bike-shares, Ko is also pitching stationless bike-share as a way for cities to save money.
“We have a cost model that we think we can make work. If you look at other companies, the estimates are about $5,000 per bike.” he recently told CityLab. “When we engage cities, we say, ‘Hey, instead of spending a million dollars on a station bike-share [program], how about putting in more bike racks or adding more safety lanes for bikes?’”
It’s not surprising that Silicon Valley is vying to get in on the bike-share business. As Next City recently reported, bike-share has exploded in the U.S. in the past decade — with more than 50 systems across the country.
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.