Does dockless bike share work?
In late January 2018, a new bike-share program will be hitting the streets of Canada’s most bike friendly city, Vancouver. The current bike-share program in the city is called Mobi; it uses docks in limited locations in the urban core where users must start and end their trip. It’s new competitor, U-bicycle, will allow it’s users to pick-up and park bikes in any legal public rack across the city.
Docked bike shares have their fair share of challenges and limitations, but will this new model for the city be more successful? U-bicycle is new to Vancouver, but it has had 150 bikes in circulation in Victoria, BC since late September 2017. At just $1 for every 30 minutes of use, these bikes are cheaper than a bus ride and potentially more convenient, assuming you can find one parked in your starting location! After just the first month, the company was seeing both successes and challenges: 1/3rd of the bikes were ridden everyday, but about 12 bikes had been stolen, only 8 of which were successfully recovered. There were also concerns about bikes bunching up in the same area, and bikes that were reported as “abandoned” when they hadn’t been moved in a number of days.
Docked bike share systems are more costly and require permanent space, and often they can’t scale fast enough to be comprehensive and successful. Seattle recently closed it’s docked bike-share program, with 500 bikes, because it underperformed and only served a small coverage area. Shortly after, it allowed 3 private dockless bike-share companies to put 9000 bikes on the street. Now that the pilot phase is over and the data is in, are these new companies succeeding? There is definitely one way in which they are not: legal parking.
This is the biggest challenge cross the globe: anytime a dockless bike share arrives, people leave the bikes everywhere! They are abandoned in the middle of the street, locked up in high tree branches, and there is an affinity from Melbourne to Amsterdam for throwing them into bodies of water. Can dockless bike-sharing overcome the legal parking challenge and out-pace the more costly and limited docked programs? As competition sets off in Vancouver, a bike-heavy city with a successful and growing docked program, we might see once and for all which system will reign supreme- or we might see a lot more bikes in False Creek.