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The good, the bad, and the ugly of dockless bikeshare
Eli Dile   on Tuesday, December 19, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

If you live in a city, there’s a good chance over the past few months you’ve stumbled onto a bright green or orange bicycle parked on the sidewalk. It’s yours to take, if you wish, and join the new evolution of bikeshare hitting the streets.

Dockless bikeshare no longer requires cyclists to return their rides to a designated docking station. Once you’re done riding, you simply put up the kickstand and leave it anywhere. Dockless bikes are spreading to cities large and small, bringing convenience to commuters and big quandaries for planners.

On the plus side, the dockless metamorphosis tackles at once two core weaknesses in the traditional bikeshare model.

  1. Bikeshare has been criticized for neglecting impoverished neighborhoods, where alternatives to car transportation are most needed. Dockless bikes will end up in any neighborhood that wants them (though the user must still own a smartphone in order to find, unlock, and pay for their ride).

  2. Bulky and expensive docking stations have limited its reach. Typically located along a curb, stations often come at the expense of on-street parking spaces and face opposition from cranky neighborhood associations. But dockless bikes can be parked just about anywhere.

But “anywhere” has been interpreted quite liberally by careless riders, with bikes ending up in the middle of busy sidewalks and even on congested subway platforms. More creative examples abound (Seattle Magazine). Competition among the multiple companies competing for market share all but guarantees a glut on haphazardly placed bikes for the time being (Recode).

The innovation is causing headaches in other ways. There are cases of vandals throwing bikes onto train tracks and causing serious damage and delays (Washington Post). And cities that have already invested in traditional bikeshare infrastructure are left wondering if their efforts will soon be made redundant.

It’s a new challenge for planners, some of whom already are responding with common-sense regulation, e.g., quotas for the number of bikes each company can deploy. China offers an extreme example of unregulated bikeshare, where 16 million bikes have clogged city sidewalks and bikeshare graveyards have risen up to claim the remnants of bankrupt competitors (Guardian).

Image: Joe Flood / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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