Image by Transit.

Five companies now operate dockless bikeshare in DC (and two now offer dockless scooters). You locate a dockless bike with an app, unlock it from your phone, and ride it anywhere (or at least, anywhere allowed). These bikes have brought great benefits to riders... and also some complaints.

They have provided many people with easy access to bikes who aren't near a Capital Bikeshare station and don't have a personal bike. Anecdotally, at least, that includes some people traditionally underrepresented in bicycling.

There are some challenges, too. Sometimes, riders park them on federal land where they're not actually permitted. Sometimes people park them blocking a sidewalk or curb ramp, and sometimes they fall over in the wind.

In DC, the bike companies are operating under a pilot period authorized by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) through April. DDOT will be soon deciding how it wants to recommend continuing or modifying the program.

DC Sustainable Transportation, a coalition of business organizations, advocacy organizations, and government entities, has been talking with the dockless bikeshare companies (Mobike, LimeBike, Spin, JUMP, and ofo) for the past few months to find common ground on the benefits, challenges, and solutions for dockless bikeshare. The group recently agreed on a joint statement of principles, below.

We are a group of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), advocacy and business organizations, and dockless bikeshare operators who have been working together to help dockless bikeshare best serve DC residents, workers, and visitors and harmonize well with other ways people use public space and pedestrian right of way.

We support efforts by public and private entities to increase the availability of bicycling as a travel option in the District of Columbia. Bicycling in general provides a space-efficient, affordable, environmentally friendly, healthy form of transportation, and we hope to see the percentage of trips in DC by bike increase in the short and long term.

We also support and applaud efforts by the District government to encourage innovative technology companies to offer services and create jobs in DC.

We believe that dockless bikeshare offers a valuable additional transportation choice for people in the District of Columbia. Specifically, dockless bikeshare:

  • Can help connect residents, including those who are not well served by Metro or high-frequency bus lines, to jobs, schools, shops, and other points of interest;
  • Offers a new option for a last-mile connection between transit and final destinations;
  • Brings a new low-cost bicycling option to people who are not near a Capital Bikeshare station or for whom the cost of membership or bike ownership is an obstacle;
  • Has begun to provide enhanced mobility to populations which have historically not had access to bicycling;
  • Has the potential to reduce single-passenger car traffic and congestion on our roadways, as was demonstrated by the current Capital Bikeshare system. Thanks in part to the availability of alternatives, vehicle miles traveled and vehicle pollution have not increased over the past decade in the Washington region, assisting with the District’s goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2032 and 80 percent by 2050.
  • Is leveraging privately-funded capital and rapid technological innovation to offer services and jobs to people in the District of Columbia at no direct cost to District taxpayers.

We appreciate the ready availability of dockless bikes and want to see that continue and expand so that ideally, one is easily reachable for any person who wants to ride one. We support continuing the general system of competitive operation among multiple dockless bikeshare operators as in the current pilot and allowing the fleets to grow along with reasonable, pre-determined, enforceable measures to ensure that dockless bikeshare equitably meets the needs of all District residents, workers, and visitors.

While the vast majority of dockless bikeshare trips have resulted in appropriately parked bikes which do not impede the public space and pedestrian right of way, we understand that in some cases, dockless bikeshare has impacted use of the public space, such as being parked on federal or private land where they are not permitted, or with wheel-locked bikes, occasionally blocking curb ramps or sidewalks or otherwise impeding pedestrian access or falling over in windy conditions.

To address impacts which have arisen in the pilot thus far, we support the following principles and practices:

Concerning the proper parking of bicycles:

  • Operators will work to ensure their staffs do not deliberately place bikes in large numbers in busy, crowded, or otherwise potentially disruptive areas.
  • Operators will educate users in identifying proper locations and methods to park bikes, and on areas to avoid such as federal parkland and water features. They will consider mechanisms to reward users for proper parking and will restrict parking in areas which are deemed to be off limits.
  • BIDs already perform a number of monitoring and maintenance functions for public space. A number of BIDs and operators are interested in devising an arrangement where BIDs assist in addressing issues in their territories, such as mis-parked bikes and notifying operators about problems such as broken bikes, along with reimbursement for a reasonable expected cost of this effort. The primary responsibility for managing biikes will remain with operators. We support working with DDOT to identify an appropriate mechanism for addressing issues in neighborhoods not served by BIDs.
  • We support the establishment of in-street corral locations, with physical bike racks, in busy areas to provide people with adequate space for the option to park wheel-locked, lock-to, or private bicycles where they will not interfere with sidewalk needs.

Concerning the design of bicycles:

  • We agree that bikes need to be safe. We support setting some standards as necessary for safety, ideally at the national level, and allowing bikeshare operators to innovatively design bikes that meet those standards.
  • We understand that some wheel-locked bikes have fallen over due to wind, and agree to work to eliminate tipping for those bike designs where this is happening.

Concerning general requirements:

  • We agree that real-time bike locations and aggregated, anonymized data on relative roadway usage should be released publicly for the purpose of providing a more sustainable and efficient transportation ecosystem. A more detailed set of data should be specified in the regulations and provided periodically by operators in a more confidential way to DDOT or to a research institution able to confidentially store and analyze the data. These data requirements would ideally be coordinated with other cities so that dockless bikeshare operators can provide common data in all the cities they serve.
  • We support increasing the overall numbers of bikes allowed for each company to enable serving more neighborhoods in DC. To avoid overconcentration of bikes in any one location, we suggest exploring workable systems to require rebalancing when bikes become concentrated and/or creating adequate corral space in areas where concentration is likely, such as near special event venues.
  • We support mechanisms for the District government to monitor and enforce compliance with all requirements.

We look forward to continuing to work together and with the government of the District of Columbia to help dockless bikeshare thrive as a useful mode of travel for many people who live, work, and shop within its borders.

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David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.