Dockless bikeshare, 6 months later

Posted by Rachel Karitis on 3/22/18 12:08 PM

We're nearing the end of the 7-month trial period for dockless bikeshare in Washington, DC. In the middle of September 2017, hundreds of colorful bikes hit the streets, mostly in the downtown area. We went out to test them ourselves, and you could hear the hubbub on the streets around us. "How do these work?" passersby asked us. "You just unlock them? With your phone?"

Happy biker outside TransitScreen HQ
Serious testing in progress outside TransitScreen HQ.

There was the initial fear that these bikes would detract from our existing docked bikeshare system, though Capital Bikeshare showed no fear in the face of a new option. This was not a competition, they said! The result we all want, collectively, is more people riding more bikes. (Most city-funded bikeshare systems are not profitable enterprises, given rebalancing efforts and high overall operating costs.)

As it turns out, our beloved red-and-yellow bikes need not have been worried. In October, when dockless excitement was still high, Capital Bikeshare still logged 6 times more trips than the private companies combined — 338,152 to 56,477, according to the District Department of Transportation. It would appear we really are headed toward the bike-filled utopia of which urbanists and YIMBY-ists everywhere dream.

How'd it go?

During the past 6 months, there's been a lot of talk about the future of seriously implementing these systems in cities across the country. Most of us agree that some level of regulation is needed, but what level?

Florida is considering a bill that would hold private bikeshare companies accountable for any unlawful parking of their bikes by consumers. They would also be required to meet insurance minimums and bike maintenance requirements. Seattle may install corrals making it easier to find legal places to park the bikes.

ofo Bikes at a bike standofo bikes lined up and ready to go. (Photo courtesy Washington Post.)

And that's nothing to speak of the differences in public and private companies when it comes to sharing data — Capital Bikeshare publishes its data and has made it available for free in the agreed-upon GBFS format, but there's currently nothing in place to make other companies do the same. We just recently obtained the data for these dockless agencies to add to our screens after months of working to acquire it.

However, some of the discussion of these dockless options has led to complaints about simply the presence of the bikes — or the people riding them. As this CityLab article points out, there is no specific crime other than the illusion of criminality or just that the neighborhood dislikes the idea of bicycles.

We're hopeful that these dockless options will lead to more diversity in access to bikeshare, which has long been an issue with traditional models. These private companies offer a slightly lower cost for one-time rides, which is important for lower-income potential riders who may not have the full $85 upfront for a yearly membership. It's too soon to tell if there is a marked difference in access, but we are hopeful this will continue to improve.

What's next?

Electric bikes. Jump's fleet is entirely electric, and other companies are taking steps in a similar direction. You can read more of our thoughts on this in a separate post, but overall: Electric bikes increase average trip length, making bikeshare a feasible option to replace car trips for a larger portion of the population.

We're also keeping our eyes on electric scooters, which were dropped off in small numbers by Waybots last month and now by LimeBike. It's certainly too soon to say what impact, if any, these will have on the city's mobility network — but an interesting development nonetheless.

lime-s-scooter-docklessLimeBike's scooter fleet in action. (Photo courtesy WTOP.)

We look forward to seeing the city's conclusions as the trial period comes to a close. As always, we're in favor of more bikes and more options for everyone! In time, we know others will be too. 

Topics: Mobility