The Do’s and Don’ts of Bike Sharing

The need for innovative bike share systems has never been greater. Cities are on a mission to modernize urban mobility to keep pace with the public’s shift away from personal vehicles and toward shared, on-demand transportation. However, bike sharing’s tremendous growth and evolution — most notably the recent shift from dock-based to dockless systems — has not exactly been a smooth ride.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some cities race headfirst toward a dockless model that took China by storm: blighting streetscapes with a flood of unlocked, cheap bikes to gain market share. But as bikes began piling up, floating away, alighting on telephone poles, and blocking rights of way, cities like Dallas are beginning to question whether this model actually makes sense for American cities.

At Zagster, we’ve been in the bike share game long enough to know this model isn’t sustainable. Informed by a decade of partnering with cities and operating more than 200 bike shares across the US, we know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to bike share in America. Given it’s the start of a new year, when many cities are considering dockless bike sharing, we felt that now was a good time to share a brief list of the most common do’s and don’ts.

If this list resonates with you, be sure to get in touch to learn more about how Zagster and our new dockless network, Pace, can help your city modernize its transportation options without any of the drawbacks of first-gen dockless models.

Don’t...

Build a completely station-based system. Entirely station-based systems are inherently inflexible, require tremendous capital up front and incur enormous operating costs at taxpayer expense. While they put bike share on the map, station-based or ‘dock-based’ bike sharing systems are showing their age and stage.

Go “completely dockless.” While convenient for riders and cheap to execute, first-gen dockless models from companies without much experience in bike sharing have serious drawbacks. With no locks to ensure safe parking, completely dockless or "lockless" bike shares sprawl haphazardly across sidewalks and streets, public parks and even in trees. Second-gen models like Pace and Jump deliver on the benefits of dockless bike sharing, but without the drawbacks. (Check out our video to learn how.)

Ask for forgiveness instead of permission. While it’s easy for companies to scatter 300 bikes across a city and walk away, this approach hinders ridership and risks souring officials and policymakers on bike sharing. Eliminating the dock from bike sharing systems doesn’t eliminate the need to build great partnerships with cities and local businesses.

Do...

Lay early groundwork. To create vibrant, sustainable bike shares, providers should prime community members for the new service to ensure the bike share debuts in a favorable environment from day one. Build a teaser program. Get bike advocacy groups involved. And do a proper launch event with city officials to get things off on the right foot.

Build real partnerships. Bike share providers must engage government officials, local businesses and community members to understand and adequately address their needs, and fill any gaps in the current transportation system. All transit systems should integrate with each other, including bike share.

Stay flexible. As cities change, bike share programs should evolve as well. From installing more public bike racks, to investing in bike lanes and rider education, partnerships that can meet the changing needs of cities are essential for long term bike sharing success.

For a deeper dive on this subject, check out this recent op-ed in Route Fifty by Zagster CEO Tim Ericson.