On January 19, Scottsdale residents attended a town hall forum about the city’s bike share program, which launched in November. While the upsides of the fledgling program were mentioned, many residents had complaints about the dock-less system, which has led to bikes being left on their lawns and other less-than-ideal places.
The bike share system riders tend to rent the bikes for a short period of time while riding to work or running errands. The average length of a ride is about 1.35 miles or 10 minutes, according to Scottsdale Transportation Planning and Transit operations manager Lisa Johnson. There are two types of bike share programs active in the Scottsdale community: the dock-based system and the dock-less system. The dock-based system run by Grid Bike Share, which is the most widely known and used, requires users to rent bikes at a station or bike rack, and return them to another station or bike rack.
The dock-less system functions differently than the traditional dock- based bike share program. “The dock-less bikes require no public funding and are privately operated,” Johnson said. “So there is no partnership with the City of Scottsdale with these companies. They manage all of their maintenance and operation costs as well as the infrastructure that is required to operate.”
While the dock-less systems of companies ofo and LimeBike require no bike racks or kiosks, in order to rent a dock-less bike, users must download an application to their smartphones. The ability to legally park the bike virtually anywhere once the final destination has been reached gives users more flexibility on their rides. But it has also caused a diaspora of dock-less bikes around Scottsdale neighborhoods, which makes some residents unhappy.
“I generally support the concept of the bikes; however, the execution has been kind of troublesome,” Scottsdale resident John Mann said. “We had a bike left in front of our house and it stayed there for 10 days. We made multiple calls to LimeBike. One of my major issues is that they are unresponsive. It finally took me putting the bike in the middle of the street before they actually came and picked it up.”
“It is becoming a bit of an eyesore in the parks; perhaps there are a bit too many of them,” John King added at the public forum. “I spend a lot of time every day in El Dorado and Vista Del Camino Park. The lack of bike racks is part of what is causing that eyesore problem. There is nowhere to put the racks so they end up in unsightly heaps sometimes.”
The dock-less bike system was successfully introduced in Europe and Asia in the mid-2000s, but has only recently made its way stateside. Johnson wants to assure citizens that the City of Scottsdale is working with other cities to find the best practices. Mobike, which is based out of Beijing, China, uses a scoring system in which riders rate previous riders’ parking jobs. For example, if the previous rider leaves their bike in a lake or other poor location, their next ride will cost more. Chinese cities are also moving toward creating parking zones for dock-less bikes.
One of the citizens in the community, Caryl Peters, who owns sporting goods store Big Red of the Desert, believes the dock-based system would be a solution to the surplus of bikes everywhere.
“We park our cars in parking stalls,” Peters said. “If we have hubs, we wouldn’t have these problems. I just think that it needs to be organized better. If we are trying to keep Scottsdale beautiful with pretty flowers, well, with the bikes we aren’t doing it. This looks like China.”
Johnson went on to explain why the dock-less program could be appealing to Scottsdale citizens. “The dock-based program requires public funding,” she said. “That funding is twofold. There’s a startup cost and that is to purchase the infrastructure such as the bikes themselves, the kiosks, the stations and the technology. There is ongoing funding, too, for operations and maintenance. Some (cities) budget it in their operating budget and some allow the operators of the bike share companies to either advertise or get sponsorships to help offset those costs.”
Keen on hearing the complaints of the citizens, Paul Vidal, general manager of ofo bikes, was in attendance during the forum. Ofo has only been in Scottsdale and the broader Phoenix area for a little over a month, and Vidal was there to learn how his company can work with the residents of Scottsdale.
“Scottsdale has been our biggest market in terms of ride per bike in the entire United States,” Vidal said. “The overwhelming response is the highest it’s been in the United States, even higher than Seattle. I don’t want the bikes to get in the way or be an obstruction. I want to make sure we get this right because we are a part of this community. You have my assurance that if you email or call, I’ll be the one that answers. We’re going to hire more people and we’re going to get better at this.”