Have you taken a ride on one of the new dockless bikes situated around town yet? It’s a chance to ditch the car for your lunch break, finish that last mile of a bus trip, and explore new neighborhoods from the comfort of a bike!
What is dockless bikeshare?
Dockless bikeshare is a new way to navigate cities by bike. Anyone can rent the brightly-colored bikes for $1 per ride through their smartphone and ride to any destination they desire. You don’t have to return the bike to a specific location. Just make sure that it’s not impeding a walkway or in an unsafe location that could cause damage to pedestrians or other vehicles.
Since November, four new companies have deployed bikes in Charlotte. Limebike, Spin, ofo, and Mobike have permits that allow as many as 500 bikes for each new company. That’s 2,000 more chances to substitute a car trip daily!
How are these bikes different than Charlotte B-Cycle? B-Cycles use a dock-based system, meaning bikes have to be returned to a B-Cycle dock and have been in Charlotte since 2012.
If you are having a tough time wrapping your head around how these new bikes differ from the existing B-Cycles, think of B-Cycle like the Blue Line. B-Cycle stations are fixed and like the light rail, provides a reliable form of transportation in that you know where to find it when you need it -- it doesn’t move from one day to the next. Dockless bikes, on the other hand, can go anywhere at any time, allowing community members to pick their own routes. However, you may need to use your smartphone to find the nearest available bike.
Why is it important?
Charlotte is not the first city to have dockless bikes dropped on the streets or to encounter hiccups with parking them. Washington D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco have all experienced a similar, recent addition to their urban landscape. The only difference? Charlotte’s population is growing faster than any of these other cities with 44 people moving here every day, on average.
Peter Romonav uses dockless bikes to get around when he visits, “I actually live in Winston-Salem and my girlfriend lives in Charlotte so I come every other weekend. We now make it a point on Saturdays to mix up our walks with the bikes.”
It might be shocking to many Charlotteans, but some people do not drive. Dockless bikeshare offers community members in all neighborhoods an affordable and convenient transportation option. They are available at any time, giving people with unique work schedules choices outside of the normal bus or transit hours of operations.
Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Charlotte ranks dead last for upward economic mobility of children born into poverty. For the average household, transportation is the second largest annual expense, requiring 22% of their income. Shouldn’t we, as a city, welcome innovative investments like dockless bikeshare that offer a new transportation choice to people of all income levels?
Given time, the dockless bikes will become more decentralized, moving from their first Uptown or South End location and into neighborhoods all around Charlotte as people begin to use and understand how they work.
However, this migration does not happen overnight. Buzz Morley is the Operations and Logistics Manager for Charlotte’s Spin bikes. He has a team of Charlotteans working to balance and maintain the fleet day and night. He explains that there are two phases to the bikeshare roll-out process. During the initial launch phase, bikes are simply taken from a warehouse and dropped off in the streets. This might be a little intimidating, especially when ofo and Mobike launched on the same day. In the next three to four weeks, bikes will reach an equilibrium and obtain a more sustainable distribution pattern.
LimeBike was one of the first companies to launch back in November. Since then, 5,500 active Charlotte users have taken almost 14,000 LimeBike rides and covered 10,480 miles.
Local rider Matt Hoffman has taken more than 30 trips on the dockless bikes. “I understand the concern and frustration,” he says, referring to the learning-curve some riders face when they finish their trip, “but I think the companies so far are addressing the concerns...and I have gotten reminder messages on the apps to make sure I understand acceptable ways to park them.”
That’s what we call a #docklessbikeWIN!
Are you interested in riding, but prefer to give it a try with others? As soon as weekend temperatures hit 50, keep your eyes on Weekly.Rides.com for a dedicated bikeshare and brewery combination ride!
What can you do to make sure bikeshare is a success?
We applaud the Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) for piloting dockless bikeshare, and for welcoming these alternative transportation companies into our city. This willingness to innovate and try new things is something we really need from local government if we are going to avoid becoming another Atlanta in terms of nightmare congestion and costly auto-oriented sprawl.
We can all do a part to make sure bikeshare is a success. If you see a bike that’s fallen over, pick it up. Move it over to an appropriate spot out of the way of pedestrians and cyclists. If you see a larger problem, call the bikeshare operators directly to report as they have folks on call to move bikes within two hours of being notified. The City of Charlotte has all of the contact information listed on this website.
Contrary to popular opinion, Buzz reports that Spin has only had four official citizen email complaints and two emails from CDOT requesting bikes be moved for the Thanksgiving day parade.
Peter has this final advice for anyone who is curious about the bikes, “Try one out for 30 minutes. It's only a dollar! If you haven't been on a bike in a while, you'll quickly remember just how fun it is to ride a bike! Maybe you thought you could get to your destination on time just by walking. What if you realize you can't? Wouldn't it be nice to stumble upon a bike to speed up your commute?”
Sustain Charlotte hopes to see more people using these bikes to their full potential in warmer temperatures!
By Kate Cavazza, Bicycle Program Manager at Sustain Charlotte (firstname.lastname@example.org)