The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) in Washington, DC is conducting a six to seven-month “demonstration program” for dockless bike sharing – a system that lets riders park anywhere they would a personal bike as opposed to a designated dock. The program will examine how dockless bike share options complement the existing system of docked bicycles. Riders find bikes via smartphone apps and can leave them in approved parking spots, such as public bike racks, next to street signs, or at street corners. Five private companies, LimeBike, Mobike, Spin, Ofo and Jump are participating, joining the already established dock-system run by municipally-owned CapitalBikeshare. As it is a pilot program, DDOT is currently limiting the number of bikes each operator can provide, allowing companies up to 400 bikes each through April 2018.
“We wanted to give operators an opportunity to introduce their products to the market and felt 400 was a reasonable number to begin with. At the outset, we did not know the number of operators who would be interested in the District or how operations would run,” said Kim Lucas, DDOT CapitalBikeshare coordinator. “During the demonstration period we will be evaluating data from operators and public feedback to figure out whether the 400 bike threshold is appropriate.”
Typically, one bike-share service per city is the norm but more cities are granting permits to multiple operators. Governments, rather than having to fund municipal bike share systems, are seeing startups offer free bikes to their cities. In Seattle, the pilot program’s success has allowed the operators to increase their number of bikes on the streets. New York and San Francisco have experienced challenges with permitting, with some viewing municipally-overseen bike-shares as being monopolies. Other cities have encountered problems with dockless bike sharing such as abandoned bikes piled up along busy city corridors and sidewalks, as well as loss and theft.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for cities,” said Russell Meddin, editor of BikeSharingMap.com. “Many U.S. cities could take five to 20 times as many bikes as they have today, finally fulfilling the potential of public bicycle transportation.”