I have come across stories about the problems of Dallas Bike Share system (video above) and have read many stories about the failures about it. But that's not what I've observed when I was in Dallas. What's actually happening is that it's serving a transportation purpose and making up for the failures of Dallas city leaders and people are enjoying the service.
Unlike San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth, Dallas has no Bike Share System that was initiated by the local government. The only reason why that this could be because there's seem to be this attitude towards fixing transportation that a train will fix it. DART has the most miles of any light rail system, yet on any given day, they have traffic jams just like any other city in Texas. I sum up the reason why Dallas didn't adopt bike share like this:
Politician: "Trains are going to fix up our transportation problem.With an attitude like this, it is no wonder I hardly see any bicycle lanes at all even though there's plenty of room on many of it's thoroughfares.
Hostage User: "There's no train plan to be built between my house and my work."
Politician: "Don't worry, one day there will be a train going to that destination."
So with nobody in city of Dallas wanting to put in a bicycle share system, entrepreneurs decided to start their own. I hear told that they are 5 companies, but I only saw three companies that operate their dockless bike share bicycles in Dallas, and they are LimeBike, V-Bike, and Ofo.
This is what happens when governments fail to provide a transportation need, but unlike Uber or Lyft, you see the results all over the place. At first it was just one bicycle, now, they litter everywhere. Back in November 2017, I was in Dallas for just a day. As I rode around the town, I started to notice a Dockless bike at the Flying J on I-20. As I continued my journey around Dallas, I saw the dockless all over the place but what I saw was that they were popular at around Light Rail Stations.
The Story that is being left out of all these narratives is the fact on how these dockless bike shares are really helping the people who I have dubbed as "Hostage User". It's a term that I came up with to describe how the people dependent on public transit are pretty much held hostage by the decisions of those transit agencies they depend on. And for the record, I'm one of these Hostage Users myself, after all I depend on VIA to get around town and avoid places that have terrible or no bus service.
Owning a bicycle can become a very expensive thing to own for some people. Yes, it does make you healthy, but if you're really serious about commuting by bicycle, you began to understand that having a bicycle starting at $300 is a requirement for commuting. Add to the cost of good lights, Locks, which I constantly notice that goes un-purchased, the end cost can gets to about $500. And When you're barely making money to pay the rent, we'll good luck on buying a $80 lock that keeps your bicycle from being stolen.
Now comes the dockless bike share. Renting it is pretty cheap like a $1 an hour and you don't have to worry about repairs, flat tires, finding a docking station or that expensive U-lock. So now, you get one downtown, take it on the bus (I've seen these bicycles taken on the train). And Once you get to your destination, you're not waiting another 30 minutes to catch the bus to take you the next 2 miles. These bicycle are fixing the problem with transit services worldwide, by providing the transit means to meat that last mile. There's a reason why people own cars and don't take VIA everywhere, there's a reason why people are afraid to commute by bicycle. But when you have a bicycle that you can just pick up and leave anywhere without worrying about it, well that changes the game. (The Video Below)
The next step for this bike share system is to end up all over the DFW area especially where the regional transit systems go, but they're not going to be in stuck there. They're going to spread to other city in Texas, not just the ones that don't have a bike share system but places like San Antonio that do. If we don't write the rules now they will get out of control. So here are my recommendations...
- Limit the amount of bicycles that are available and or limit the number of companies that are legally able to set up shop. This can be done with a limit of bicycles per company or an overall limit the number of dockless bikes available, lets say 15,000 bikes.
- Make all companies that set up shop pay a fee to SWell Cycles to pick up stranded bicycles. Just having the companies themselves pick up the bicycles will not solve the problem for they'll only pick up their bicycles leaving their competitors to litter the sidewalks. SWell Cycles will be responsible for putting an equal number of bicycles at certain locations.
- Have the travel data collected so the city of San Antonio and other municipalities can know where to put down bicycle lanes.
- Designate spots where these bicycles should be left especially at transit centers and bus stops.
- Encourage people to take these bicycles on the VIA bus and around town or put several or 10 bicycles in places where people requested that SWell Cycles want to expand within the first year.
- Charge people an extra $1 to leave it parked not at a SWell Cycle Station. If we then see a bunch of these bicycles at a location where's there is no docking station, then this should be an indication that there's need for more docks or a docking station at or near this pile of bicycles.
- Use the data collected to put in new docks and where to put down bicycle lanes.
- Wait at least two years before putting penalties in such as leaving it blocking a sidewalk, or in a flood plain. But please don't charge more than $15 and for repeat offenders, work with them. They might live behind a fence and the sidewalk outside is too narrow.
And if you don't like my recommendation, click here to go read the "Five Ground Rules to Help Cities Get the Most Out of Dockless Bike-Share" by Streetsblog USA.
Not everyone is happy about this new Dockless bike share. Bicycle shops hate this system and from one owner that I talked to, told me that their shops have lost business in Dallas. This man who I will not name because I don't have his permission said that he feels that the reason behind the dockless bike share is to keep bicycling a marginalized transportation option by making the appearance that riding a bicycle is trash. Now I don't think that the end results to make bicycling an non-option for transportation, but to keep industries growing when they really can't grow anymore. Since I'm at a lost for words, I urge everyone to take some time out and go listen to the Extraenvironmentalist Episode #94, Rocking the Google Bus where they interview Douglas Rushkoff about his book, "Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity." There you'll understand that the forces behind these ventures including Dockless Bike Share is unfortunately is a way to destroy local markets in an effort to keep the business growing indefinitely, in this case, shutting down your local bicycle shop by becoming the main bicycle provider.
The time is ticking away for the chance to control the upcoming situation. We need to be ready for the onslaught of dockless bicycles blocking our sidewalks and littering our streets. This is one technology that will not go away and if we refuse to be ahead of the curve, we'll be buried under piles of broken green and yellow bikes. And if you happen to be a residence of Alamo Heights or other independent suburb, well you're not immune and just outlawing them won't work.
All images were taken around Deep Ellum, in Dallas, Texas. Sorry, but I don't have precise locations.