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.”
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.
Buenos Aires’ bikeshare system, EcoBici, is completely subsidized by the municipal government and free to all users. The city invested heavily in a network of protected bikeways that were implemented concurrently with the bikeshare launch, and the system has been a big success as result. In 2017, Buenos Aires expanded the EcoBici to 200 stations with 2,500 bikes, and it is now integrated with MiBA, the city’s transit card. While dockless bikes are now appearing in Buenos Aires, their impact has not yet had an impact on EcoBici’s numbers.
The Tanzanian capital, one of the fastest growing cities in the world, recently opened the first of six phases of the first high quality bus rapid transit system in East Africa, DART. Cycling is a major part of this transformation, with new, protected cycling lanes along the central Morogoro Road. A full bike network and bikeshare system is being planned alongside the BRT, an essential component in a city where half of the population travels by foot or bicycle.
Dublinbikes, the city’s station-based system, is well-used at 5.6 daily trips per bike and accessible at 13 bikes per 1,000 residents. Dublinbikes is lightly integrated with transit–a transit card can be used to unlock a bike. The Dublin City Council was an early adopter in Europe of a code of conduct to regulate dockless bikeshare systems; that process is continuing to be refined with the arrival of several dockless bikeshare operators in the city.
Guangzhou, which has had a successful station-based bikeshare system since 2010, was one of the first cities in China to embrace dockless. But the government allowed the system to grow too quickly; an estimated 700,000 bikes on city streets by May 2017 led to massive piles of abandoned dockless bikes and sidewalks blocked with unregulated bike parking. Taking action, the municipal government issued technical guidelines for parking bikes in the city and created a blueprint for standardizing dockless operators. The station-based system has also been adapted to compete with dockless, mobile payments enabled and integration with the city transit card.
The capital and largest city in Finland is already bike-friendly, with over 1200 km of dedicated bike lanes, and is close to reaching their official goal of 15% of all transit served by cycling by 2020. Like many cities that have successfully integrated bikeshare, Helsinki treats it like public transit, with an integrated fare card and easy connections to transit. Recently, the city announced that they would integrate cycling into the MAAS (Mobility as a Service) platform that connects public transit with student and disability transportation services and provate sector offerings, including shared-resource services. Photo Credit: Martti Tulenheimo, Flickr
London has made major investments in cycling infrastructure, including a successful rollout of cycle superhighways. After seeing an influx of dockless bikes on its streets, London got out in front of other cities on regulation of dockless bikeshare. Transport for London’s code of practice for dockless cycle hire “lets operators know what is expected of them and ensures that dockless bike schemes complement London’s public transport network”, including requirements that operators provide bikes in the city’s surrounding boroughs, outside of Central London.
The city of Marrakech opened the first bike share system in Africa in 2016, launched in time for the city’s hosting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP22). While the system is relatively small—300 bikes in 10 stations—and only available in the city center, it has helped revive cycling in the city; people had traditionally traveled by bike before cars dominated the streetscape. Expanding the system, called Medina Bike, is one of several strategies being considered to reduce Morocco’s fossil fuel consumption.
Mexico City was a pioneer in large scale bike share systems with their launch of ECOBICI in 2010. Today, it has become Latin America’s largest station-based bikeshare system. ECOBICI remains a high-performance system with 5.4 daily trips per bike, and 19 bikes per 1,000 residents. The system now offers traditional and pedal assist e-bikes, making it one of the few hybrid systems in the world. Four dockless operators are also offering bikeshare as part of a pilot program, and are required by the city to provide real time tracking, verifiable user information, and bike parking areas. ECOBICI’s ridership numbers have remained strong.
Montreal’s BIXI was one of the first station-based systems in North America, opening in 2009. Due to famously harsh winters, the system is seasonal, open from from April 15-November 15. Because BIXI stations must be removed while the system is closed, moveable stations were pioneered early on and later replicated in New York City and elsewhere. BIXI, which is funded through car parking fees, had a record-breaking year in 2017, with more than 258,000 users taking nearly five million trips–high numbers for a city of 2 million residents. Dockless operator dropbike recently entered the Montreal market, and so far has focused on complementing, rather than competing with, BIXI.
New York’s Citi Bike, the largest station-based system in the US, is also one of the best performing, with 6.4 trips per bike per day. Since opening in 2013, it has become an integral part of NYC’s transit network, providing valuable connections to bus and subway, particularly as the city continues to grow and develop in neighborhoods not served by subway lines. Originally launched with 6000 bikes, expansions in 2015 and 2017 doubled the size of the system to 12,000 bikes and 750 stations across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Jersey City. There are currently no dockless bikes permitted, but the city is working on a pilot program that will be rolled out later this year, and 12 operators, including the dockless e-bike operator Jump, have applied.
Paris set the standard for bikeshare in major cities with the launching of Velib’ more than a decade ago. In 2018, Velib’ became Velib’ Metropole, with an expansion plan including all new bikes—including some pedal assist e-bikes,—and new stations. The rollout of the new system hasn’t quite gone as planned, and the city’s recent move to take over the installation of new stations from a private operator signals the importance of Velib’ in the city’s transport network. Even though dockless bikes are now available in the city, there are currently no formal regulations to manage their operation and some operators have left Paris due to theft and vandalism of their bikes.
San Francisco, like many other US cities, uses a sponsorship model for its station-based system, Ford GoBike, which operates without any public funding. The system, previously Bay Area Bike Share, has approximately 7,000 bikes in 550 stations throughout the Bay Area. The system includes discounts for low-income residents. SFMTA oversees San Francisco’s dockless bikeshare program, which requires private operators to meet comprehensive permit requirements—with a particular focus on equity—prior to operating in the city.
While Seattle enjoys a reputation as an environmentally and bike-friendly city, it has struggled to integrate bikeshare into their transit network. In 2017, the city shut down its seldom-used bikeshare system, Pronto, after several attempts at expansion hit political roadblocks. Some cycling advocates pointed to the city’s mandatory helmet law, and the lack of a quality, protected cycle network in a downtown area heavily congested with cars as reasons for Pronto’s demise. Today, Seattle has fully embraced dockless bikeshare as the first city to introduce comprehensive permit requirements before operators launched. The city is becoming a best practice example for dedicating city resources to managing and enforcing dockless permit requirements, and is currently piloting dockless bikeshare parking zones.
The sovereign city-state in Southeast Asia is working to incorporate dockless bikeshare into its extensive transit network. The Singapore Land Transport Authority (LTA) pivoted from planning a station-based system to develop permit regulations for dockless bikeshare. Singapore-based dockless operator oBike launched in 2017 with 1,000 bikes, and that number has now grown to over 14,000, with over one million active users. Mobike and ofo also have bikes in the city. Common complaints about dockless bikeshare, such as damaged and abandoned bikes, and bikes blocking public spaces, have led to the LTA requiring dockless operators to work with the agency to site and implement thousands of bike parking zones.
Capital Bikeshare, Washington’s station-based system, has been a major success, spanning five jurisdictions and averaging four trips per bike per day. Capital bike share was an early adopter of a per-trip fare option, which launched during a long-term metro rail maintenance period and has become popular. DC was also an early adopter of dockless bikeshare—the pilot now includes scooter share—with fleet sizes capped at 400 per operator. This has helped DC avoid some of the problems other cities have faced managing public space. Dockless bikeshare has been particularly popular with the city’s African-American population, potentially correcting the racial disparity in users that has plagued Capital bike share.
Download the policy brief, Optimizing Dockless Bikeshare for Cities, here.