Dockless bikeshare workshop emphasizes the importance of regional coordination

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Dockless bikeshare increases shared bike use significantly. That was the good news from the May 31 Dockless Bikeshare Workshop. However, free from fixed docking stations, participants learned that dockless bikes don’t respect jurisdictional lines. Inter-jurisdictional coordination and cooperation is essential.

At a workshop sponsored by the TPB’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee, speakers from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, briefed attendees on some lessons learned from their ongoing dockless bike share pilot programs. Attendees included staff from agencies or jurisdictions that are considering adding dockless bikeshare and wanted to learn more.

Dockless bikeshare explained

 Dockless bike (and vehicle) share is different from fixed-station systems like Capital Bikeshare. Dockless vehicles operate and are parked in the public right of way but are owned and managed by private companies. Users find the GPS-equipped bikes with a smartphone app and use the app to unlock the bike. Fees are charged per half hour of use to the user’s credit card. There is typically no upfront cost or membership fee. The bikes can be left parked on the sidewalk so long as they do not block the sidewalk, bus stops, wheelchair ramps, or driveways.

Dockless bikeshare in the Washington region

A map of Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) trips and Dockless trip pick-ups. (DDOT)

 Two jurisdictions in our region currently have dockless bike share—the District of Columbia and Montgomery County. The two programs are slightly different from one another.

In DC, DDOT’s Dockless Bike Share Demonstration Project, began in September 2017 and will run through the month of August. It covers the entire District. Seven private companies are currently operating there. Jump, Spin, Ofo, and Mobike operate bicycles only. Waybots and Bird operate electric scooters. Limebike has both scooters and bikes. Dockless companies are allowed a total of 400 vehicles per operator. Dockless bike share has added roughly 2,000 shared bikes to the District so far.

Montgomery County’s pilot program only covers a section of the county. (MCDOT)

Montgomery County’s pilot program covers the area near Silver Spring and Takoma Park, inside the beltway. The county signed agreements with four dockless bike share companies, inlcluding Limebike, Mobike, Ofo, and Spin to conduct the pilot Dockless Bike Share project. There are currently no limits on the numbers of bicycles that could be deployed under the agreement. About 460 are on the streets now. The program debuted on October 26, 2017, with an initial six month trial period.

Here are three other takeaways from the workshop:

Dockless bikeshare has increased bicycling

 Dockless bike share accounted for 17% of all bikeshare trips in the District. Use is concentrated in the same neighborhoods where bicycling is already popular, but especially downtown. Dockless bikeshare is increasing total shared bike trips, rather taking trips from Cabi.

Theft is a problem

Theft has been an issue for certain operators in the District. Operators that did not require a credit card lost 50% of their fleet within a short period of time.

Bike parking and public engagement

There is a problem with improperly parked bicycles, and a need for more bike parking. In Montgomery County narrow sidewalks often leave little room to park the bikes.

Despite requirements that operators retrieve illegally parked bikes, the owner of the right of way ends up receiving a lot of the complaints. The public is often confused about whom to call when a bicycle is parked improperly. A single phone number and web site for dockless bike share would be a tremendous asset.

Government cannot rely solely on the bikeshare companies to plan, educate, and engage community and businesses, and must be prepared to do so itself.

Inter-jurisdictional coordination is essential

Since the key feature of dockless bikeshare is not needing a fixed station, dockless bikes may be permitted and deployed in one jurisdiction, but don’t necessarily stay in that jurisdiction.

Dockless bike share bikes are already spreading out from the District into neighboring jurisdictions, including Arlington and Alexandria, neither of which has signed an agreement with a dockless bike share company. The National Park Service does not yet permit parking dockless bike share bikes on its land, but it’s happening anyway.

Since the key feature of dockless bike share is no fixed station, the bikes cross borders. (DDOT)

The dots in the figure above show the start points for dockless bike trips in the District of Columbia and adjoining jurisdictions.

Pilot programs are helping to work out the kinks

Regulating bike parking, security, and cross-jurisdictional migration of dockless bikes are all issues that need more work. Dockless bikes create more demand for bike parking, and some of the management and public relations burden inevitably falls upon the owners of the right of way.

A unified phone number and web site to report problems would be an asset. Another idea that was discussed was whether to impose fees on dockless bikeshare companies to offset public expenses for management and parking, as well as fines for failure to comply with the terms of the permits.

Participants agreed that the pilot process was the most effective way to determine the costs and benefits of dockless bike share, and determine what types of regulation are needed. Initial results indicate that dockless bike share has significant benefits, increasing bicycling, and bringing access to areas and populations not served by fixed station systems at moderate public cost. Dockless bikeshare is expected to spread to additional jurisdictions. A follow-up workshop will be held in Fall 2018.

MORE: See the full presentations from the May 31 workshop

MORE: Read a Washington Post article about dockless bikeshare in the region

Michael Farrell is a Senior Transportation Planner and is the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the TPB.

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