Commuter Solutions

How Dockless Bikesharing is Transforming Cities: Seven Policy Recommendations to Minimize Disruption

How Dockless Bikesharing is Transforming Cities: Seven Policy Recommendations to Minimize Disruption

For over a decade, modern-day bikesharing systems have disrupted mobility across the globe. Bikesharing users access bicycles on an as-needed basis for one-way (point-to-point) or roundtrip travel using one of three bikesharing models: 1) station-based bikesharing, 2) dockless, and 3) hybrid bikesharing systems. These systems currently operate with both traditional (motorless) bicycles and electric bicycles or “e-bikes.” Bikesharing fleets are commonly deployed in a network within a metropolitan region, city, neighborhood, employment center, and/or university campus.


The majority of bikesharing systems in the world are public for a nominal fee, with a credit/debit card on file. This is not to say that there are not equity issues associated with universal access due many individuals being unbanked or underbanked. In a station-based bikesharing system, users access bicycles via unattended stations offering one-way service (i.e., bicycles can be returned to any station). In a dockless bikesharing system, users may access (unlock) a bicycle and park it at any location within a predefined geographic region. In a hybrid bikesharing system, users can check out a bicycle from a station and end their trip by either returning it to a station or a non-station location or users can pick up any dockless bicycle and either return it to a station or a non-station location within a designated geographic (or geofenced) area.


As of May 2018, there were over 1,600 information technology-based public bikesharing systems worldwide with over 18.17 million bicycles (Russell Meddin, unpublished data). Of those bikes, approximately 6.1 million are located in China across more than 640 bikesharing programs. The U.S. has 261 operators with more than 48,000 bicycles (Russell Meddin, unpublished data). Between 2010 to 2017, 123 million bikesharing trips have been completed in the U.S., with 35 million trips completed in 2017 alone (NACTO 2018).


In recent years, the number of dockless bicycles has grown considerably across North America. As of 2017, dockless bikesharing bicycles accounted for about 44% of all bikesharing bikes in the U.S. and approximately 4% of bikesharing trips (NACTO 2018).


There are several ways that dockless bikesharing impacts cities in ways that docked systems do not. First, there could be a greater potential for bikes to be ridden (and parked) in spatially non-uniform ways, whereas the potential spatial imbalance of docked systems is limited to the number of available docking points within a given vicinity. In a dockless system, users are free to ride and park bikes wherever they choose typically within a predefined geofenced area without the requirement of having to return them to an available docking point.


26196675899_46f32c9127_kSource: Eric Fisher. Online image. Chicago 2017 photo album. October 15, 2017


Additionally, without bikesharing stations co-located next to mobility hubs or public transportation nodes, additional policies may be needed to encourage multi-modality. Without the ability to physically co-locate dockless bikesharing with these other transportation services, digital and fare payment integration is critical. Digital integration can include leveraging application programming interfaces (or APIs) to integrate dockless bikesharing with public transportation apps and multimodal trip planners. Fare integration involves the development of a single fare payment method across multiple modes. As part of the Federal Transit Administration’s Mobility on Demand Sandbox, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is currently partnering with Divvy bikes, a station-based bikesharing operator, to integrate bikesharing into their Ventra app and allow customers to pay for their bikesharing use with their Ventra card (fare payment). Ventra cards store public transit credit for use on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and Pace. The goal is that Chicago public transit riders will be able to open the Ventra App, add transit value to their account, pay for a bikesharing pass, go to a bikesharing station, and start cycling.


With the growth of bikesharing fleets, cities are increasingly confronting questions about curb space management, how to prevent dockless bicycles (and scooters) from parking in inconvenient or dangerous areas that impede the rights-of-way of pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles. Seattle has developed a policy for curbside management and to guide where dockless bicycles should be parked in urban areas.


Seattle’s policy defines three key zones: 1) a landscape/furniture zone, 2) a pedestrian zone, and 3) a frontage zone. Seattle requires dockless bicycles to be parked in the landscape/furniture zone and has painted labels on several curbs to highlight appropriate parking places. Please see images below of zones and painted parking labels. Additionally, Seattle prohibits bicycles from being parked on corners, driveways, or curb ramps, and being parked in a way that blocks access to buildings, parking meters, benches, bus stops, or fire hydrants.

Zones Seattle GovSource: City of Seattle
Processed with VSCO with a6 presetSource: Seattle Department of Transportation

In addition to curbside and bicycle parking management, a number of cities also employ “geofencing” or the process of designating a certain region of a city or metropolitan area as off limits to prevent bicycles from being parked in distant, less urban environments. For example, dockless operators in San Diego use geofencing to prohibit cyclists from parking and leaving their bicycles on Coronado island. Similarly JUMP, recently acquired by Uber, has geofenced Union Square in San Francisco to discourage bicycle parking in the busy pedestrian plaza.


In the event that dockless bicycles do end up in prohibited locations, a number of public agencies have developed fees and impounding policies to address these situations. For example, Seattle requires dockless bikesharing companies to move improperly parked bicycles and to correct parking violations within two hours of a problem being reported during normal business hours. In Washington D.C., the National Park Service prohibits parking dockless bicycles in the National Mall and impounds illegally parked bicycles.


Cities can support dockless bikesharing and minimize disruption by proactively developing policies to guide:

1. Identifying locations where bicycles can be parked;

2. Developing agreements with private operators that indemnifies the public agency from liability for any loss or injury that could result from a dockless cycle operating or parked on the public rights-of-way;

3. Enumerating the enforcement procedures for illegally parked bicycles, such as fines or impoundment;

4. Developing a process for requesting access to the use the public rights-of-way (i.e., curb space);

5. Identifying fees that should be charged or permits should be issued for dockless bikesharing to operate within a municipality;

6. Establishing standards for dockless parking signage and/or markings to identify proper parking areas; and

7. Developing data sharing requirements and/or impact studies as a condition to allowing dockless bicycles to be parked on public rights-of-way.


This article was co-authored with Adam Cohen. Cohen and Shaheen are co-authors of Planning for Shared Mobility, a primer to guide local governments on incorporating shared mobility into their communities. Shaheen and Cohenare members of the UC Berkeley/Booz Allen Hamilton Independent Evaluation team for the Federal Transit Administration’s Mobility on Demand Sandbox program.


Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.


Works Cited:

Featured Image – TriMet. Online image. BIKETOWN picture album. July 19, 2016.