LimeBike: Chicagoans Should Lobby the City to Drop the “Lock-to” Rule

After this Sunday, wheel-lock-only dockless bike-share cycles will be banned

Photo: LimeBike
Photo: LimeBike

Recently I’ve checked in with Ofo and Pace about how Chicago’s dockless bike-share experiment, which started in early May, is going from their perspectives, so now it’s LimeBike’s turn.

According to LimeBike spokeswoman Becky Caroll, the 50 LimeBike electrical-assist bicycles that have been deployed on the Far South Side had seen a total of 1,900 rides by the end of May, or 380 trips per bike. “When you look at those numbers, they’re very much reflective of the kind of success we’ve had in Seattle.” She added that they haven’t seen any cases of theft or vandalism.

Carroll reported that, per the city’s dockless bike-share permitting requirements, LimeBike has been making an effort to hire within the communities the program serves (the coverage area includes almost all of the city south of 79th Street), and 90 percent of the Chicago employees are African-American or Latino. She said that they reached out to West Town Bikes, Equiticity, Slow Roll Chicago, and the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community to ask for hiring recommendations.

LimeBike reps have also met with upwards of 20 aldermen to discuss Chicago’s dockless program, including the fact that by July 1 – this Sunday — Chicago will require all DoBi cycles to be “lock-to” models with built-in U-locks or cable locks for securing them to racks or poles. LimeBike’s cycles only have wheel locks, and Carroll indicated that her firm will drop out of the pilot if the city doesn’t get rid of that rule. “It’s kind of hard for a company that’s whole business model is based on [wheel-lock bikes] to make the switch.”

Far South Siders have reported, and the LimeBike app has confirmed, that the company’s fleet has tended to be clustered in Beverly, the most affluent and bike-friendly neighborhood in the coverage zone. That’s despite the fact that the city’s rules require that at least 15 percent of a firm’s bikes be distributed to each of the four quadrants of the pilot area, roughly divided by State Street and 103rd Street, at any one time.

“The challenge is that we only have 50 bikes,” said Jessie Lucci, LimeBike’s Chicago manager. “And in the [southeast quadrant], there aren’t so many safe places to deploy the bikes. Many streets lack sidewalks or have speed limits over 35 mph.”

The small maximum number for wheel-lock bikes (Pace, with lock-to bikes, was allowed to release 250 cycles) also makes it difficult to collect meaningful trip data, added Gabriel Scheer, LimeBike’s director of strategic development. It’s also hard to encourage repeat trips, such as from people’s houses to transit stations, if customer don’t have confidence that there will be a cycle nearby when they need one.

Scheer noted that when Seattle first allowed dockless operators to set up shop, they required a minimum of 500 bikes per company, and that city, with about 725,000 residents, now has about 10,000 DoBi cycles. In contrast, the Chicago pilot area has about 700,000 residents, but a mere 350 total dockless bikes.

The LimeBike reps argued that if Chicago doesn’t relax its lock-to rule and conservative fleet caps, it will lose two-thirds of it’s dockless vendors. Scheer said he’d like to see Chicagoans lobby the city to rethink the permit regulations. “If you like something, you don’t want to see it disappear.”

  • Urbanist Chic

    Chicago should maintain its lock-to rule. If anything, it will decrease bike “clutter” and will spur investment in additional bike racks, which is a win for all cyclists. Further, if the market is as strong as indicated, then some other dockless company will come in lock-to bikes.

  • 神隠し

    The bike clutter in cities that allowed use of wheel-locks only is a total eyesore. Bikes taking up public right-of-way space all over, bikes fallen over into streets, thrown into rivers, etc. I hope the city sticks to its guns on the lock-to ruling.

  • Carter O’Brien

    It’s hard to see how 350 bikes could be an issue with respect to “clutter” on the streets, as they are spread out over a substantial amount of real estate. I’d bet there’s at least that many booted and/or abandoned vehicles in the City, not to mention mattresses, toilets, and other junk that gets dumped in the public way. So let’s balance this requirement in light of the added mobility and jobs in these neighborhoods.

  • Cameron Puetz

    I’d be interested in hearing from some Beverly (since that’s where most of the bikes are) residents about if clutter has been a problem. The point of having trial period is to see how something works and then use that data to make an informed longer term decision. Let’s see what can be learned from the trial.

    While some dense cities have struggled with sidewalk clutter from dockless systems, some moderately dense areas have benefited from the flexibility. If the trial has been going well, there’s no reason to force out vendor that’s bringing bike share to underserved areas.

  • planetshwoop

    I don’t know what the right answer is. I respect the company’s desire to participate, but it often feels (to me) that the bike companies are trying to blame the city for not designing the program around their needs instead of the other way around.

    I wouldn’t be so sensitive to this (I think) if it weren’t a trend. Uber broke the law everywhere, then made cities change the laws to accommodate them.

    It just seems that, *maybe* Lime needs to consider a lock-to design? Like, do they plan to comply if new safety/mobility regulations were added? I think that’s where I’m coming from in my resistance to their complaints.

  • Anne A

    With the small number of bikes, it is NOT an issue.

  • Jeremy

    I agree with your points, but the 50 bike limit seems really low. A cap of 250 wheel locks and 500-1000 lock-to bikes seems more sensible considering the population and footprint size we are talking about.

  • Anne A

    Here’s my perspective from Beverly. Clutter has NOT been an issue. I’ve been observing closely since the launch, and have seen very few problems. Most people are using and docking the bikes like reasonable people.

    I have already contacted CDOT and shared the blog piece below with them. In the low density neighborhoods included in the pilot, the number of objects that a lock-to bike can be attached to is limited or non-existent in many locations, especially on residential streets. This limits the usefulness of DoBi, as it affects how close to people’s homes they can get and find a place to lock the bikes at the end of their trips.

    I’m lucky because I have a stop sign on the corner in front of my house. On many blocks, the smallest thing to lock up to is a street light – useless for the short DoBi cable. The city needs to take this into account in making a decision on this issue.

    Many of us have been appreciating the choice of DoBi options and don’t want to see LimeBike and Ofo go away because it would cost us the best options for many trips to/from residential locations. If the total number of bikes is still limited, but is increased somewhat (perhaps 500-1000 per vendor) to allow for better coverage and for more people to be able to regularly use the bikes, I think that would be a reasonable solution.

  • Anne A

    The extremely low limit on the number of bikes makes it difficult for the problem to be truly viable and useful. The higher limit you suggest would be much more practical.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I think your concerns are reasonable, as they’re coming from a place of genuine concern. But I also think we should be concerned when Chicago seems to be a best practices outlier compared to other major US cities. It’s pretty rare Chicago is that much more brilliant than the rest of urban America, you know?

  • BlueFairlane

    Let’s say you own an ice cream stand, but the city says that while you can sell things, you can only sell lemonade. Now, you could probably convert to selling lemonade if you wanted, but you’d have to spend money on a new juicer, and you already have all those ice cream bowls in the stand. But you’re being told that if you want to do business, you have to convert to a product you don’t sell.

    I think it’s fine in this case for a community to ask for specific things, but it’s also fine if your business model does not include those things to leave the city.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Companies shouldn’t be allowed to break the rules, but at the same time the rules need to make sense. If the free locking bikes allowed on a trial basis didn’t cause problems and were popular, then the rules should be changed.

  • planetshwoop

    Yes! But in this case, they’re saying “well, you’re doing it wrong, you should just follow our way.”

    Which is OK for a company to say! And it is OK for the city not to listen too.

    I just was struck that the tone was sort of arrogant — we have a model and your request doesn’t fit the model so YOU should change, not us.

    There are probably lots of problems with the pilot, and I agree with other posters that the pilot should be used to learn what to do to roll this out more widely.

  • com63

    Seems like they want it to fail, but to be able to say that they tried.