May 11, 2018

Optimizing Dockless Bikeshare for Cities

New technologies and innovative business models continue to transform the bikeshare landscape. Some of this has been  Dockless bikeshare has already had some positive impacts, such as replacing an estimated 10% of car trips in Shenzhen, China, and increased the visibility and ubiquitousness of urban cycling in dozens of cities worldwide. Private dockless bicycle companies claim to provide bikeshare profitably (that is, without subsidy), creating the potential for bikeshare to become a rapidly scalable transportation option in cities.

However, complex questions have begun to arise: Can a city successfully improve urban transportation with dockless bikeshare? Can they avoid the negative outcomes of dockless bikeshare seen in many places? Can they do both by enabling profitable, competitive businesses? The answer appears to be yes, as long as cities proactively adopt policies to integrate dockless bikeshare into the city’s broader transportation system.

“Dockless bikeshare has a reputation for being a ‘disruptor,’ but that’s not necessarily what people need,” said ITDP Senior Research Associate Dana Yanocha, who wrote the policy brief. “The best transit innovations—especially those that are privately operated—offer riders convenient, affordable options for getting where they need to go. Local governments that have viewed dockless bikeshare as an extension of their transit systems and introduced some form of regulation have seen ridership flourish as a result.”

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The ITDP policy brief, Optimizing Dockless Bikeshare for Cities, defines a dockless system as one having GPS-enabled bicycles that users can lock and unlock, through a smartphone app, anywhere the user wants to start or end a trip—from a public bike rack to the middle of a sidewalk. This is the main difference from “docked” bikeshare systems, in which bikes must be rented from and returned to fixed stations. More than 1,000 cities around the world offer some form of bikeshare service, with dockless becoming increasingly popular due to its scalability and relatively low capital investment required from cities to launch. Dockless bikeshare has replaced an estimated 10 percent of the car trips and 13 percent of gasoline consumption in Shenzhen, China.

“Bikeshare, as a transportation mode, is good for the environment and for public health,” said Fernanda Rivera, Director of Cycling Design and Culture for the Secretary of Environment of Mexico City. “But most importantly, this is an option that allows anyone, regardless of income, to get around town more easily. For any bikeshare, especially dockless, to be successful, it must meet this need. Improving commuting conditions is relevant when promoting non-motorized transport.”

Other cities around the world have embraced the potential of dockless bikeshare to solve often-difficult problems. Seattle and Washington DC, for example, have implemented dockless systems that emphasize service in communities that have not been well-served by other means of mass transit. While Seattle’s city’s docked bikeshare system was shut down because of low ridership, the nearly one year old dockless offerings are doing better—strong regulations and designated bike parking zones are helping to more seamlessly integrate dockless bikeshare into the city’s transport network.


Download the policy brief, Optimizing Dockless Bikeshare for Cities, here.

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