Everyone is saying: Bikeshare right now is like the wild west.
With any new technology that uses public space, regulators are wrangling with how to simultaneously control bikeshare (and *not* spend $17,000 on an unneeded search and rescue mission every time some desperado leaves a bike on a ferry) and deciding which operator they should ultimately allow in their towns. Throw in dockless, e-bike fleets, Uber takeovers, and sidewalk scooter graveyards, and yeehaw, there’s bound to be a shootout. Below we’ve got who is coming to town, plus the questions and controversies that keep city planners up at night.
First up, the newish kids on the block—dockless. These companies have a few things in common: Their bikes are wild colors, they don’t use expensive and limiting “docking” stations, they’re all backed by VC money, and they share a certain penchant for “disruption.” Now onto the cast of characters…
Ofo: The outlaw
This Beijing-based bikeshare company stormed on to the U.S. scene in August with several hundred bikes in Seattle. Out of the three major bikeshare companies operating in the U.S., Ofo is packing the most heat: As of last year, it was operating more than 10 million bicycles in 250 cities and 20 countries.
Ofo along with other Chinese bikeshare startups are notorious for steamrolling over local governments to flood new markets with bikes thereby crowding sidewalks, enticing vandals and creating literal bikeshare graveyards.
In the U.S. Ofo’s had its issues with the sheriff. The company admitted it “got off on the wrong foot” in Cambridge by peppering the city with bikes that turned to sidewalk blight. And more recently, Ofo was unceremoniously kicked out of the North American Bikeshare Association for lobbying for a bill in Florida that would have put bikeshare under statewide control leaving local communities in the lurch.
LimeBike: The missionary
It’s hard to believe that LimeBike launched its first system in just June of last year, given its momentum now.
With 38 cities, including Austin, Seattle (where it launched its largest fleet yet of 500 bikes) and L.A., plus 15 universities, and the bike-y-est possible NFL brand ambassador (see here, also here) this “kinder, gentler” bikeshare biz seems unstoppable.
LimeBike launched its first fleet of electric bikes in Seattle in January and now also has e-bikes in other cities with plans for more.
A fresh batch of funding last fall drove up LimeBike’s worth to $225 million. We expect LimeBike to continue setting up outposts. Several days ago in fact, news broke that LimeBike knocked out an existing bikeshare system in its own backyard: San Mateo, Calif.
Perhaps a tiny bit more than other dockless bikeshare companies in the U.S., LimeBike’s attitude towards cities and municipalities has been one of partnership and collaboration. Like when Dallas issued a bikeshare ultimatum, LimeBike made supplications in the form of added staff, a promise to not add more bikes, and a plan to redistribute existing bikes. Or like now, while officials in San Francisco attempt to regulate the “scooter wars,” LimeBike has at least responded to sidewalk parking issues by requiring users to take a photo of their park job before signing off. Hey, it’s a start.
Spin: The scoundrel
Spin, the San Francisco-based dockless bikeshare company, doesn’t have the market share of Ofo (around the world) or LimeBike (in the U.S.), but has nonetheless proven itself to be a major contender by launching bikes in Seattle (alongside its competitors) last year. The company is operating in 18 cities with a total of 30K “vehicles” (bikeshare bikes and scooters) and boasts 1 million rides taken since summer 2017. Last year, Spin raised $8 million in a funding round led by Grishin Robotics.
Many of us are having flashbacks to the early days of Uber and Lyft right about now, and Spin seems to be following Uber’s “launch anyway” approach. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, especially given Spin CEO Derrick Ko was previously an engineer and product manager at Lyft. Spin has experienced several regulatory set backs, including Austin shutting down its initial launch within a day and the NYC Transportation Department quashing its unauthorized operation in Queens.
Since Seattle was the first city where all three major vendors were operating, tech journalists undertook comparison product testing and reviews. It’s worth noting that LimeBike came out in top in nearly all accounts (see here, here, and here).
Jump: The old dog with new tricks
Jump/Social Bicycles is one of the oldest dockless bikeshare operators in the U.S., with 5 million rides on 15,000 bikes in 40 markets since the company launch in 2010. It is one of the first dockless bikeshare companies to start piloting electric bikes.
And here is where the bikeshare narrative gets interesting: Formally called Social Bicycles, Jump was acquired by Uber in April for an undisclosed amount (but likely more than $100 million). Now users in Washington D.C. and San Francisco may scout out and reserve an electric Jump bike (perfect for those hills) using the same Uber interface.
Jump is the first and only dockless bikeshare operator to receive a coveted permit from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority, and the agency is temporarily denying new applicants during an 18 month pilot period. This decision has effectively blocked all other vendors (including LimeBike) from entering the San Francisco market, and has allowed Jump to launch 250 dockless e-bikes—all by the book.
With Uber and the city of San Francisco on its side, Jump is loaded and ready to spring ahead of the competition.
Municipal bikeshare systems that use docks—stations with parking slots where users must retrieve and return bikes to—aren’t hitting the dusty trail any time soon. The largest docked systems in the U.S., like Citi Bike in NYC and Ford GoBike in San Francisco, are expanding.
Here are the ones to know:
Ford GoBike: The Bay Area’s bikeshare system launched 250 electric GenZes in April, which should give Jump bikes a run for their money. Ford also partnered with Alaska Airlines last fall, giving users 10 Alaska Mileage Plan miles for each ride taken.
Bewegen: Canadian company Bewegen was the first docked system to feature electric bikes in the U.S. in Birmingham. Soon it expanded to Baltimore and then to three other American cities and regions. Although with dockless e-bikes coming into their own, we may see Bewegen bikeshare systems’ popularity wane.
Electric Scooters: The next frontier
Most recently, Spin, along with LimeBike and Bird have gotten into the electric scooter game, spewing contraptions all over the streets of a few major cities in the U.S. The “scooter wars” have officially started. Scooter operators have drawn much ire in San Francisco for this move from local tastemakers, City Hall, and citizens. But then again, it seems like scooters are getting a ton of use, anecdotally at least in SF. It feels like a new frontier where the same old wild west battles will rage.
Need a guide for the bikeshare wild west? Bikes Make Life Better can help make sense of the options and select a system that is right for your bikeshare needs. They’ve helped design bike programs for Facebook, Salesforce, Airbnb, Stripe, Pembroke Real Estate, LinkedIn and many others.
By Anna Walters, for Bikes Make Life Better
Best Practice Guide
Bike-To-Work Day Guide: How To Engage Your Employees
Bike to Work Day is a perfect opportunity to engage your employees and often the gateway into bike commuting. Read our guide to get you started and prepare for the big day.
Best Practice Guide
Company Bike Fleets: A Guide to Bikes as Business Tools
Whether employees at your company need to get around a congested city or you need to cut down on car trips to your corporate campus, we’ve got a bike (program) that can help!