The proliferation of dockless scooters and e-bikes has polarized San Antonio. Advocates point to the increase in mobility afforded by these devices, particularly as a way to encourage the use of mass transit, by providing a quick, sweatless way for commuters to go from the bus stop to their final destination and back.
The reality is different. Thousands of dockless scooters and bikes are located throughout the city. They are ridden on sidewalks and streets, mostly by tourists and joy riders. Some are used as promoted – in the last mile – or by errand-runners and shoppers in the city center, but it appears that most scooters are ridden purely for recreation or for the novelty.
The result: scooters blocking sidewalk access, riders weaving through crowded sidewalks, startling or hitting pedestrians, failing to follow rules of the road, and riding in other unsafe manners. Injuries have occurred involving riders as well as pedestrians, and the rate appears to be increasing.
How can we solve the problem of enhancing mobility, while providing a better environment for pedestrians and road users? Perhaps we’ve neglected the first bike sharing program, B-Cycle (now SWell Cycle). Since it was introduced in 2011, the nonprofit program has established a network of docking stations across the city where, with the swipe of a credit card, a rider can get a bike and ride. The primary difference between these cycles and the newcomers: bikes are docked in established locations, which allows tracking and maintenance.
Compared to the dockless Jump bikes, the SWell Cycles are similar – 3-speed hub gears, baskets for supplies, and robust construction. The principal difference is that the Jump bikes have integrated electric assist that provides a boost when the bike is pedaled. The motor will not propel the bike unless the rider pedals, but it provides enough support that you may not even break a sweat. (The 2-mile ride from Hemisfair Park to my house on the East side requires a bit of a climb and the Jump bike makes it easy).
I propose a solution that provides a last mile transport option, but reduces congestion: Eliminate dockless scooters, and designate SWell Cycle as the transport provider. In order for this to work, SWell Cycle would need to implement the following changes:
- Replace the existing bike fleet with e-bikes.
- Modify current docking stations to provide battery charging.
- Increase the number of docking stations to include bus stops (mini-stations that can accommodate no more than three bikes per stop).
- Allow a limited dockless rental option via an app, but require that bikes that are not docked to be parked in designated areas.
- Utilize geolocation technology to allow users and staff to find bikes and establish geofencing as required.
- Impose penalties on renters who do not return a bike to a dock. When they log out of a use period, if the bike is not docked, a 50 percent surcharge is automatically assessed.
- Task SWell Cycle staff with collecting, docking, and maintaining the fleet (and increase staff as required).
- Develop mobile docking stations that can be positioned near existing stations to provide additional capacity during events.
- Allow use of these bikes on paths and in parks, same as traditional bikes
Implementation of a hybrid system as described would provide a robust last-mile transport solution while reducing downtown congestion and supporting a local nonprofit.