Stakeholders to City Officals: Low Number of DoBi Cycles, Rides Is Worrisome

There Are Only 350 Cycles Now, and That Could Drop to 250 After This Saturday

Dockless bikes in Beverly. Photo: John Greenfield
Dockless bikes in Beverly. Photo: John Greenfield

Update 6/29/18 11:30 AM: The Tribune reported today that Jump Mobility, which was recently purchased by Uber, will be joining the Chicago dockless bike-share pilot, eventually deploying 250 “lock-to” electrical-assist bikes with built-in U-locks. (Streetsblog Chicago reported that Jump was planning to come to town almost two months ago.) This means that, even if LimeBike and Ofo drop out due to the lock-to requirement, the total number of DoBi Cycles will rise from the current 350 to 250. 

Today representatives from South Side community groups and other civic organizations today told officials from the mayor’s office and the Chicago Department of Transportation that they’re concerned that the city’s Far South Side dockless bike-share pilot is resulting in relatively few rides, largely due to the limited number of cycles.

Chicago’s dockless permitting guidelines requires the three dockless vendors — Pace, LimeBike, and Ofo — to provide the city with ridership data by June 12, although officials haven’t shared this info with the general public yet. This afternoon staff from the mayor’s office and CDOT held a conference call with stakeholders to provide a summary of the data and solicit input about the pilot.

Invited participants included reps from Equiticity, the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, We Keep You Rollin’, SRAM, West Town Bikes, Go Bronzeville, Active Trans, Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab, AARP, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Slow Roll Chicago, Grow Greater Englewood, Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, Environmental Law and Policy Center, and Woods Fund Chicago, as well as other interested citizens.

Currently Pace, which uses “lock-to” bikes with a built in cable lock for securing the cycle to a rack or pole, is allowed to deploy 250 cycles. LimeBike and Ofo, which use wheel-lock-only cycles, are only permitted to have 50 bikes each on the street, for a total of 350 cycles. After this Saturday all bikes must be lock-to, and LimeBike and Ofo have indicated that they will drop out of the pilot if the city follows through with this rule. LimeBike staffers recently noted that even 350 cycles is a drop in the bucket for a coverage area (almost all of Chicago south of 79th Street) that includes about 700,000 residents, since Seattle, with roughly the same population and good dockless ridership, has about 10,000 DoBi bikes.

According to a call participant who requested anonymity, the city officials indicated that they’re still having internal conversations about how to move forward after July 1, but there was no indication that they’re planning to change the rules within the next couple of days. “If they don’t get rid of the lock-to rule, we’re going to lose two-thirds of the dockless companies, and I don’t think anyone wants that to happen,” the participant told me.

The participant didn’t provide specifics on ride data but said the city is still analyzing the numbers. “But there was a general concern among stakeholders that the number of bikes and rides taken is too low, and that the program is not showing the results the city had hoped for,” they said. “They were concerned that even 350 bikes is not adequate.”

The person added that they feel the city has done a good job of including a number of local community-based organizations in the discussion. “But it’s a little surprising that this discussion hasn’t moved beyond a relatively small number of stakeholders into public discourse,” they said.

Will the city relax the rules or, in effect, reduce the already-small number of dockless bikes in Chicago by almost a third? We should know come Sunday.

  • Anne A

    After riding the dockless bikes myself, observing usage in my neighborhood, observing patterns throughout the service area and hearing observations from others, I feel that the low number of bikes has been way too low to offer even halfway reasonable coverage for such a large service area or to be as useful as it could be to potential riders.

    I’ve seen very few problems with people leaving the bikes in places that could be hazardous.

    In the early weeks of the pilot, most of the bikes seemed to be concentrated in Beverly and Morgan Park, giving me ample opportunities to ride. In recent weeks, as I’ve observed an effort at more equitable distribution throughout the service area, it’s been tougher to find available bikes to ride, especially LimeBikes.

    I would strongly urge the city to rethink the lock-to requirement. As I’ve mentioned previously, many blocks in the service area are low density and have few or no objects suitable for locking a DoBi bike up, which put serious limits on the “last mile” usefulness for which DoBi is intended.

  • sam K

    To an outside observer, the whole dobi pilot looks like a sham. The city’s actions suggest they don’t want this and never did. Look at the tiny number of bikes, huge service area, and restrictive regulations.

    Sure, they’re paying lip service to community groups, and maybe they’ll tweak the rules to let it go on a bit longer. But I’d be shocked if they changed the rules in any meaningful way.

  • Cameron Puetz

    This trial period is starting to look like the #11 and #31 bus trials. Limit service until usage drops to a point that justifies ending it.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Ridership on the #31 has been relatively good, which is why the pilot was extended to this month: https://chi.streetsblog.org/2018/01/10/cta-extends-31st-street-pilot-to-june-2018/

    Thanks for the reminder — time for an update on that subject.

  • what_eva

    While I don’t disagree that the city’s requirements may well have been setup for failure, the companies coming in *knowing* those reqs and then trying to get them lifted during the pilot is pretty shady too. They should have refused from the beginning. It would have then been obvious that the requirements were crap when only one vendor could meet them.

  • Sally Wright McLinn

    Agree. I’m clueless how people “rent” these street bikes. Do they have to have a mobile payment system and pay; do they unlock the bikes with their cell phones?

  • Sally Wright McLinn

    These bikes are a way to appease the Southsiders, who complained they didn’t have divvy bikes. But Divvy pulled out because nobody was using (paying) for the bikes, therefore Divvy was losing money. I can’t imagine more than 500 people on the south side needing bikes at any time. There’s always “civic” complaints.

  • Sally Wright McLinn

    How do you pay for the bikes? Locking is a good idea. Have you seen those bikes in China? How they litter the streets and parks?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Customers use a smartphones app to locate and check out the bikes, by scanning a code on the bike that unlocks it. Some companies allow people with flip phones to check out bikes via text message.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Divvy pulled out because nobody was using (paying) for the bikes.” No. Divvy has not “pulled out” of any parts of the South Side. Most of the dockless bike-share pilot area has never has Divvy stations.

  • Sally Wright McLinn

    How do they pay for the bikes? Don’t you need a bank account?

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