Bike Sharing Popularity Is Exploding But Challenges Are Mounting

Bike Sharing in the U.S. is popping up in more cities from sea to shining sea. A person can rent standard or electric bikes and scooters from strategically set up stations around a location. All that is required is to go on an app, find a bike near you, click and book.

For some bikes, the rider must find another docking station near their desired location to return the bike to. Other services allow the rider to jump off anywhere, find a secure location to lock the bike up, and complete the transaction, readying the bike to be rented again by the next consumer.

What started out as a small operation has bloomed into over 36 U.S. cities utilizing bike sharing programs. Bike sharing’s roots started in Amsterdam in 1965, have spread all over Europe and Asia, and now has taken the U.S. by storm.

Uber’s Jump, Limebike, and China’s Ofo

After a short, successful pilot program with Jump, Uber announced it is buying the dock-less bike sharing company. Jump provides “pedal assist” electric bikes available for reserve by phone app that do not have to be returned to a docking station.

Uber found that usage of the bikes was higher than expected, around 2.6 miles per day per rental, and the usage didn’t differ significantly from the average vehicle ride. Jump bikes are prominent in Washington D.C. and San Francisco, but Uber plans to expand nationwide and overseas in the very near future.

A jump bike costs $2 for the first 30 minutes with an accruing per minute fee after that.

Limebike, based in San Mateo, CA, is a bicycle sharing company that has a presence in several U.S. cities and college campuses.

Known for their green color, Limebike offers bicycles with 3G technology, GPS, a basket, solar panels, and a smart lock. These dock-based bikes are app run using a scan to unlock and lock the bike, and an easy-to-use interface for finding bikes in the area.

Limebike will be trying out electric bikes in San Francisco in 2018 and also offers a scooter in limited markets.

The rate for a Limebike is $1 for every 30 minutes but can vary depending on location.

China’s Ofo bike sharing program is huge. With over 20 million users in 40 Chinese cities, Singapore, and the UK, the dockless bike sharing company is beefing up it’s presence in the U.S.

Currently in an estimated 12 U.S. cities, Ofo has the lofty goal to be in over 100 cities by the end of 2018.

Ofo charges riders an hourly rate that varies from city to city.

As Bike Sharing Grows Challenges are Mounting

With any industry experiencing significant growth, the industry also experiences significant challenges. The bike sharing industry, as it starts to move from docking stands to dock-less bikes, is no different.

Some of the dock-less bike options have riders lock the bike to a tree, rack, sign, parking meter, or other permitted lockable surfaces. This, at times, leads to bike’s clogging up sidewalks, being in the way of various activities, or being a general eye sore for the city. Many walking paths and parks are being compromised by bike’s being left irresponsibly by the users.

Companies have had high rates of theft due to riders improperly locking the bike, locking it to an unsecure structure, or tricking the system to make it look like they have locked it to a structure, but just left it leaning against something or in the middle of the sidewalk.

A universal, much larger issue, is city infrastructure. Many cities are not built to handle the increase of bikes on sidewalks, streets, or have the room for the random places people can lock and leave a bike.  Increased traffic congestion due to more bikes on the street and increased time it takes for pedestrians to use crosswalks are an overall hindrance to a city.

More Question Than Answers on Immediate Future of Bike Sharing

A great example of this is in Colorado. Denver wasn’t designed to accommodate the number of people who live there today. Bike sharing exists, but it’s hard to keep bike’s in high traffic areas and the increased bike traffic on streets adds to the gridlock that is becoming the Denver Experience.

Luckily, around 70 miles to the South, Colorado Springs has been paying attention. Designing the ever-growing area to accommodate the present while thinking of the future, like minds in the area believe Colorado Springs will be Colorado’s biggest city in the next 10-20 years. The increase in bike traffic from bike sharing companies is being integrated into the infrastructure and I would argue Colorado Springs would be the place bike sharing companies should invest in the most in Colorado.

Planners, builders, and architects are now taking bike sharing into consideration when designing plans. While this is good news for the future of bike sharing, the industry’s growth could be hampered until these plans come to fruition.

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