The day of dockless bikes has arrived in New York City: The city’s pilot program, which has been in the works since 2017, got underway in July, with the new bike share landing in the Rockaways first, then Staten Island and the Bronx.
The program, which will run through the fall, is intended to connect areas in the outer boroughs that aren’t yet served by Citi Bike to a new public transit option, while hopefully easing congestion in the process. If all goes well, dockless bikes could eventually become a permanent presence in the boroughs. (It hasn’t been without its hiccups; one of the operators selected by the city’s Department of Transportation, ofo, withdrew from the program before it even began.)
New Yorkers are already familiar with the concept of bike share—Citi Bike has been a growing, and popular, presence in Manhattan since 2013—but the new dockless program is a whole other animal, because it’s not station-based. So what does it all mean? And how does it work? We’ve got you covered with this explainer.
What is dockless bike share?
According to Alta Planning and Design, “As the name suggests, dockless bike share does not require a docking station—an expense that could sometimes limit the number of bikes a city could afford. With dockless systems, bicycles can be parked within a defined district at a bike rack or along the sidewalk. Dockless bikes can be located and unlocked using a smartphone app.”
When did New York get dockless bikes?
Last year, DOT announced that it would implement a pilot program to expand the city’s bike share system to areas not covered by Citi Bike. After announcing the locations for the program in May, the pilot officially rolled out in July.
Where can I find dockless bikes?
They’re in three boroughs right now: In the Rockaways in Queens; the North Shore of Staten Island; and the area around Fordham University in the Bronx. They’ll also come to Coney Island later this year.
Which companies are bringing dockless bikes to NYC?
There are a few: In the Rockaways, it’s Pace and Lime; in Staten Island, it’s Lime and Jump; and in the Bronx, it’s Jump and Motivate, which operates Citi Bike. When the pilot launches in Coney Island, Motivate will be in charge, along with another to-be-determined company.
What about e-bikes? Are those available?
As of July 28, yes: Earlier this year, the city “clarified” its law regarding e-bikes, allowing for pedal-assist bikes—which reach a top speed of 20 miles per hour, and whose mechanism is activated only when a rider pedals—on city streets. (This clarification distinguishes pedal-assist bikes from throttle bikes, which are still illegal, much to the chagrin of delivery workers who use them to get around—and feel they’re unfairly targeted by the city.)
As part of the pilot, Jump is bringing a few hundred pedal-assist bikes—which are considered a Class 1 e-bike—to Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.
How do you use dockless bikes?
Each operator has its own app, which you use to unlock and pay for a trip. (Jump bikes can also be rented via the Uber app.) If you’ve ever used Citi Bike’s app, it’s pretty much the same: Once you’re in the range of an available bike, you either enter a code, use a QR code, or tap a button that unlocks it, and go for a ride.
How much does it cost to use a dockless bike?
Each operator also has its own pricing structure, but they’re all about the same—$1 to $2 for a half-hour ride, with pedal-assist bikes costing a little bit more.
Won’t people just leave them in piles on the sidewalk?
It’s possible! The Wall Street Journal reported that some residents of the Rockaway peninsula have seen the new bikes left in the middle of the street, and even thrown into residents’ backyards. (If you happen to see one of the bikes in a place where it shouldn’t belong, get in touch with the operator—a rep for Lime Bikes told WSJ that they respond to tips about misplaced bikes within the hour.)
Will they catch on?
It’s too early to say with any certainty, but given the popularity of Citi Bike—which now has more than 140,000 members, and averages more than 70,000 trips daily—there’s a good chance that dockless bikes could become the next big thing in public transit.
And as Curbed’s Alissa Walker notes, “in U.S. cities where multiple systems do coexist, all bike-share systems seem to be thriving.” A CityLab report on bike share programs noted that in D.C.—which implemented a dockless program earlier this year alongside its existing Capital Bikeshare—“not only are people riding dockless, ridership on Capital Bikeshare is up as compared to this time last year. In other words, access to bikeshare seems to feed a demand for more bikeshare, and the easiest way to achieve that in more cities is with dockless equipment, or a mix of the two models.”
What about scooters?
“While we are aware of the industry and the larger companies within, these devices are not currently legal to operate in NYC under state law,” a spokesperson for the DOT told Curbed. “Our most recent focus has been clarifying the definition of pedal assist bicycles.”
How long is the pilot, and what happens when it’s over?
It’ll go for about four months. “During the pilot, DOT will carefully evaluate companies’ compliance with requirements around data accessibility and user privacy,” the DOT spokesperson told Curbed. “Evaluation criteria will also include the safety, availability and durability of the bikes themselves. In the evaluation period, DOT will also determine future steps, including the possible implementation of pilots in different or expanded geographic areas.”