With the exit of B-Cycle from the bike-sharing community and a request for proposal to be sent out for a new vendor to replace it, it is time to look to the future when it comes to bikeshare. In the year 2020, what does a successful bike-sharing system look like? How should a preferred vendor by the City and County of Denver operate in the age of dockless bikeshare such as Jump and competition from venture capital? How should we build on the success of B-Cycle? As a cyclist and someone that used the B-Cycle system heavily over the past year, here are some of my suggestions when it comes to what a vendor should be able to provide Denverites and tourists when it comes to building out a successful citywide bike-sharing system.
Where We’re Going, We Don’t (Always) Need Docks
Companies that provide completely dockless bikeshare such as Jump provide the option to park a bike without having to have a set place to dock it. While this has caused a big discussion to emerge when it comes to pedestrian right-of-way and people with disabilities trying to navigate around them, it still remains one of the most compelling reasons for tourists and Denverites to use Jump. At the same time, docks often provide a guaranteed place to park away from foot traffic and a reliable place with a certain set number of bikes at the beginning of the day. A future bikeshare vendor should take note of these facts, possibly modeling the aspect of “docking” a bike after the system that Jump bikes uses by locking the bikes up to a bike rack while still maintaining a set number of physical docks in the city.
Jump bikes in Denver.
Have an All-in-One App
As a cyclist, I use a handful of apps when I plan my commute on any given day. Before I even go on a ride, I check the weather app on my phone to see whether I should layer up or put a fender on to avoid getting splashed. I use Google Maps to find the best way to get to my destination by bike, and use Strava to record my ride and broadcast it to the world. While all of these apps are effective at getting me to my destination safely and documenting my ride for posterity, I would like to have something that incorporates all of these items and adds one unique component.
Finding a place to lock up my bike can be a bit of a hassle sometimes. While Google is generally good when it comes to finding a fairly safe route for me to ride on, it fails when it comes to finding a place to park. If a bikeshare company in the city is looking to be successful when it comes to encouraging riding bikes, any app that is associated with it should integrate a feature that shows nearby bike racks and areas to lock a bike up to that are relatively close to the person’s destination.
One of the biggest barriers to me when it initially came to using bike-sharing was the cost. As someone with my own bicycle, maintenance costs were significantly lower than the cost of individual rides, and I only adopted B-Cycle religiously when the 5280 Pass came out. To ensure that a bikeshare company is used to its ultimate extent, fares for the system have to balance making sure there is a solid revenue stream for the company and lowering the financial barriers that people often face when using their service. To do so, I propose creating a three tiered system. People visiting from out of town would, in most cases, pay full price for the service. For local residents of Denver, the cost of passes should be 50% of the cost to “out of towners.” This subsidized rate would encourage more trips on this program, and would hopefully create a revenue stream that is sufficient to keep the service running. For low-income individuals, the service should be free.
To build on the successes of B-Cycle, a successful follow-up program should have the aspects listed above. If the city is serious in its commitment to add 125 more miles of bike lanes over the next five years, these lanes should be occupied by people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
B-Cycle has created a formidable legacy on which the next city-wide bike sharing system should build. I’ve been using those red bikes since they made their debut in 2010, maintaining an annual subscription — which has averaged under $100 — all along. The convenience and worry-free access have been well worth it, and Denver Bike Sharing has always provided subsidized access for those who need it (and the one-off 5280 program was even better). System expansion has definitely slowed down in recent years, but the city core has had pretty universal coverage from the get-go.
I would argue that requiring any apps (or even a cell phone) for accessing the system would limit its accessibility. It could certainly be an option (for tourists, occasional users, etc.), but the RFID alternative should be maintained. The willy-nilly distribution of scooters and e-bikes has some benefits, but may not be sustainable — and being at the whim of profit-motivated enterprises comes with a risk. There’s nothing to keep those scooters around if regulations (about where they can be used, parked, etc.) are ramped up and enforced… as they inevitably must be. We’ve already seen some transit sharing companies pull out of Denver, and the gap in bike sharing services scheduled for the end of January will likely result in hardship for many.
And permanent stations are vital to the system’s success — and not only because they provide a level of predictability. Take a look at the TOD that’s happening around the city, and you may notice that it happens around (more permanent) train stations. Knowing that a bike will generally be available somewhere allows for planning around that fact. The infrastructure also allows for in-place charging of equipment, guaranteed maintenance of right-of-way, etc. And area businesses can reasonably be asked to contribute to the common good when they know that it will result in additional traffic for their locations.
Clearly, the service must evolve beyond where it’s already been. Interfacing with other modes of transit should be made easier, it should be even more ubiquitous, etc. But we shouldn’t entirely scrap what Denver Bike Sharing has maintained for the past decade in pursuit of some shiny new service — which may itself not withstand the test of time.
Unfortunately, Jump is using privately or government installed infrastructure for their personal profit when having users lock bikes to existing bike racks. As a consistent commuter in Denver, there have been several times when i could not lock to a bike rack in the public ROW due to these private industry bikes sucking up all available spaces. These folks need to pay for and contribute to the existing bicycle amenities versus just sucking money off of users.