Bike shares have been rolled out in large cities around the world as a way to give people a way to get around faster than walking without having to worry about bus schedules or paying for a cab.
Unlike traditional bike rentals, these bikes are designed for short trips, such as a quick ride to a shopping plaza or train station without having to worry about locking up your own bike, although some people have done a great job figuring out how to optimize longer trips or multiple errands without having to pay a fortune.
Typically, the bicycles are stored at designated docks, where there are kiosks that you can use to sign up for a membership or daily pass as well as park your bike when you are finished with your ride.
Charlotte rolled out its own bike share program in the summer of 2012, called Charlotte B-Cycle, to serve downtown Charlotte (we actually call it “uptown” but that’s a story for another day!) and the surrounding neighborhoods.
The docks are located at transit stations and popular shopping plazas, many of which conveniently happen to be located near apartments that cater to young people that often rely on rideshare services and cabs rather than drive.
While the program has been successful, growth has been slow, and at the time of writing, there are 24 docking stations and roughly 200 bikes.
Dockless bike share differs from traditional bike share in a way that should be obvious from the name.
While the biggest downside to traditional bike share is that your destination isn’t always near a dock, dockless bike share allows you to pick up a bike anywhere that you find one and simply end your ride at your destination, regardless of the location of docking stations or bike racks that people who are riding their own bikes need to use to lock their bikes.
The differences between the bikes end there, though, as the bikes still have front and rear brakes, a bell, multiple gears, a basket to hold your stuff, and lights that are powered by generator hubs in the wheels.
This allows people, day or night, to make quick trips without a car, whether it’s a quick run to the store to grab a few groceries or just heading out to eat on your lunch break.
But How Does it Work?
All of the companies operating in Charlotte are relying on smartphone apps to help you find a bike and unlock your bike.
While the bikes are locked using a physical lock preventing the back wheel from moving, they have QR codes and serial numbers that allow you to pay for and unlock a specific bike using the appropriate app.
Once you have completed your ride, you use the app to say you are finished and the bike locks itself, thus eliminating the need for a docking station at all.
Unlike the rollout of Charlotte B-Cycle, dockless bike share has unfortunately created a bit of backlash in the communities where they are present, from both non-cyclists and, surprisingly, cyclists alike.
In a matter of weeks, hundreds of brightly colored bikes were found all around the city center and surrounding neighborhoods and many people really didn’t know what to make of it.
While some of the criticisms are valid thanks to normal growing pains with such a program, most have a lot to do with the rider who parked the bike rather than the bike themselves, particularly with the most common complaint of blocking sidewalks, despite the fact that sidewalks are regularly blocked by parked cars, trash cans, and patio furniture, without much said by the same people complaining about the bikes.
The city and bike share companies have assured local communities that they are doing a better job communicating with riders about how to responsibly park the bikes, which will hopefully eliminate most of these growing pains.
The city of Charlotte is currently running a year-long pilot program ending in October 2018, which is essentially a trial period with four companies participating. The serviceable areas have been expanding fast and based on where these bikes are found around the city the people of Charlotte have been quick to embrace it.
It’s certainly not a program to end Charlotte B-Cycle, but it’s fulfilling a need that Charlotte B-Cycle cannot, and I’m looking forward to both types of programs continuing to run as another way to help Charlotte become a world-class bicycling city!