San Antonio Looking Into ‘Dockless’ Bikeshare Pilot Program

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Bcycle bicycles are parked at the B-station in Main Plaza.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

San Antonio BCycle bikes are parked at the station in Main Plaza.

At least two private bikeshare companies have approached the City of San Antonio for permission to release their free-range, dockless bikes-for-rent in San Antonio, according to City officials. But before it follows in the footsteps – or perhaps missteps – of dozens of cities worldwide, City staff will investigate best practices and latest technologies to develop a pilot program that could mitigate several drawbacks of dockless systems.

Dockless rental bikes don’t need to be picked up or placed at specific stations – unlike the 525 San Antonio BCycle bikes on 62 stations, locally operated by the nonprofit San Antonio Bike Share. Dockless bikes can be picked up or dropped off anywhere. Typically they operate with a mobile application that requires users to login, enter their credit card information, and scan a QR code that unlocks the bike.

Therein lies the convenience and problem, said Veronica Garcia, interim assistant director of the City’s Center City Development and Operations department. On Tuesday she showed City Council’s Transportation Committee photos of dockless bicycles that have been thrown into lakes, piled haphazardly on sidewalks, and vandalized.

Dockless bikes require less infrastructure investment and space, so operators can pass on those savings to users who can ride for as long as they want (or are willing to pay) without checking into a station, Garcia said. But that means they could be placed in public right-of-ways – disrupting pedestrian or vehicle traffic – or misused in other ways.

City staff will work with San Antonio Bike Share and other potential operators to craft a proposed pilot program over the next two to three months, said Lori Houston, assistant city manager. “[San Antonio needs] a policy for how to regulate this dockless system to get ahead of it.”

The City will look at the many ways to regulate dockless bikes and go about implementation, City staff clarified Wednesday, and they are just beginning to study them.

One possible option could be to craft unique operation agreements like the City did with rideshare companies.

The five-member committee, chaired by Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), was largely hesitant to go full-steam ahead on the dockless system, given the troubles other cities such as Dallas and Seattle have experienced.

A wise person learns from his mistakes, Saldaña said, “but an even wiser person learns from other people’s mistakes.”

One part of the solution may be a “station-less” system, said JD Simpson, executive director of San Antonio Bike Share, where bikes can only be left in certain areas within a geofence, a virtual boundary defined by GPS technology. “Smart bikes” that can adhere to geofencing have already been developed by bikeshare manufacturers such as BCycle, Simpson said.

“We don’t want bikeshare to get a bad name,” Simpson said.

Responding to reports of bikes littering sidewalks, streams, and other public right-of-ways, Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax sent a letter last week to dockless bikeshare companies that have released thousands of bikes onto the city’s streets. Broadnax wrote that they have until Feb. 9 to clean up the bikes or the City will. LimeBike, Ofo, Mobike, VBikes, and Spin currently operate in Dallas.

Requiring users to lock the bikes to a stationary object could be another way to prevent abuse of the system, Simpson said. According to Dallas News, that concept may soon be in place in Dallas if the new company Pace, which uses such locks, begins to operate there.

Austin’s City Council will consider regulation of dockless bikes in early February, Garcia said.

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said he was annoyed by the dockless bikes he saw in Darmstadt, Germany, and other cities.

“It looked really messy,” Pelaez said. “There wasn’t a rhyme or reason” for where the bikes wound up. “There’s a long way to go before I’m comfortable with dockless.”

However, he added, “I’m okay with pilot programs.”

If the pilot focuses on “disincentivizing bad behavior,” it could help the program thrive, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), an avid cyclist, said she’d like to see a greater  emphasis on bikeshare as a solution to the “last mile” challenge public transit commuters face, as opposed to it being an amenity for tourists. Buses can get you close, but not always close enough to walk, she said. That “last mile” could be filled with cycling options.

The existing system with docking stations seems to be thriving, said Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), who said the pilot program, if approved, shouldn’t be limited to the usual urban core locations.

Since it first launched in 2011 as the first rideshare program in Texas, San Antonio Bike Share’s docking stations have been placed throughout the center city as far north as the Witte Museum and as far south as Mission Espada. They are mainly available inside of Interstate 10 on the west and Interstate 37 to the east.

More than 525,000 BCycle trips have been taken in San Antonio, according to the City.

After some financial difficulties in 2015, which led to the the City providing $180,000 to finance a new executive director and other costs, the nonprofit is now “100 percent self-sufficient,” Simpson said, adding that negotiations are nearing completion with a major title sponsor that has a local presence.

That title sponsor, according to Garcia, is a “national brand with a local presence in the healthcare industry” that will provide stability for the next three years.

City Council will vote on a proposed amendment to extend the City’s contract with San Antonio Bike Share through 2018 with automatic annual renewals on Feb. 8.

The City’s contract with San Antonio Bike Share is to “give them authority to continue to manage the bikes and system which are in our public right-of-way,” Garcia said.

The dockless bikeshare pilot proposal will first be heard again by the Transportation Committee, which will decide if it should go to a full Council vote.


10 thoughts on “San Antonio Looking Into ‘Dockless’ Bikeshare Pilot Program

  1. Don’t do it! Dallas is littered with ugly green bikes on every corner. Thousands of bikes piled up along the streets. And I have not once seen anyone riding one!

  2. I also say don’t do it!

    The current B-cycle system is working. My husband and I use it weekly. Our current system can keep expanding to cover more ground and get better and better. There’s no need to “re-do”, deal with the headaches of leaving bike anywhere, or to allow multiple systems at once. the biggest reason I say don’t do it is these dockless “smart” bike systems are NOT AS ACCESSIBLE — you must have a smart phone to use them. Not everyone has or wants a smart phone, including me. Also for locals who are B-cycle members currently we can enjoy other B-cycle bike shares systems in Austin, Fort Worth, and Houston. I also like to travel around low-tech which means as a member I can just walk over to my nearest known station, grab a bike and go ride. I don’t need to go online or deal with anything else. Just go on a bike ride!

    Don’t drink the kool-aid on this one San Antonio!

  3. Before you add an abundance of bicycles in the Medical Center may I suggest that the Northwest Side NEEDS to get their traffic lights timed correctly so they are not still yellow on one side while already changing green on the on coming flow in the opposite direction. Check the number of accidents at the intersections of IH 10 W and DeZavala or 10 and Huebner then request COS records of adjusting the lights on the same days.
    In the other direction, the Via Trans NIGHTMARES of leaving the disabled in motorized chairs stranded for hours causes them to “ride” in the streets causing severe dangers for everyone as you sit adjacent in Cross Roads. Move the money making camera to catch all the insolent Jay walking in that area. There are people who have arrived from other cities, trying to find their Specialists’ offices WITH NO NUMBERED ADDRESSES ON ANY OF THE BUILDINGS AND STILL NO STREET SIGNS AT CRUCIAL INTERSECTIONS!!!

  4. The current San Antonio bike share program works well with the exception of having to dock the bicycle every hour. A relative came from out of town and we spent half the time trying to track down places to dock the bicycle. $2 for every 30 minutes is ridiculous! The bicycles should have at least 2 hours minimum for the rental. My relative commended our city for having a bicycle for her to ride but ended up shelling out over $20 because we would dock the bicycle 5 minutes late. It struck her and me of greediness. Fix it and more people will use the service!

  5. Do it. Couldn’t (and probably should) happen faster. Should have already happened here as apparently two separate private companies have asked to pilot in San Antonio and as at least 50 US cities currently have dockless bikeshare.

    Unlike B-Cycle, these companies are not asking for public funds or sponsorship but just the right to operate in San Antonio (why cities and some docked bikeshare systems are embracing these new private companies). New York just put out a call for MORE dockless bikeshare operators — as these bikes and companies are helping to dramatically shift mode share to more bike-based transit in cities. In other words, they help put “more [and a diversity of] butts on bikes” as transit — a development which most US cities want.

    As proven in other cities including New York, dockless even works where there are substantial dock-based bikeshare systems. It seems to compliment these systems, including by reaching to where docked systems like B-Cycle won’t go.

    In greater downtown San Antonio (within the 410 loop), the absence of B-Cycle is likely most noticeable at most grocery stores and neighborhood retail strips, major bus stops (including Centro Plaza and Five Points), college campuses, neighborhood parks and even along new neighborhood creek paths (Alazan, Lower San Pedro, Apache, Martinez) leading to downtown. Personally, I’m tired of filling out public surveys and maps asking me where I’d like to see a private B-Cycle station in greater downtown San Antonio in the next years, as various empty promises have been made since 2013.

    The City’s “equity lens” basically cracks when applied to the slowly and expensively evolving (an estimated $75k per station) and publicly supported docked bikeshare system map. Despite relatively major public expenditure on SA B-Cycle in recent years (albeit no where on the scale of the costs of public parking garage construction), this one operator isn’t reaching much of the public as a form of regular transit. Including seemingly members of this Council.

    A related concern is the City has not provided the public an implementation update of their cycling masterplan since 2013. It is not clear based on their actions this quickly passing Council term that the current Council members including the Mayor:

    A. use SA B-cycle (including noting their steeply discounted annual membership rate) regularly as transit;

    B. are aware of some of the problems with the current B-cycle system for transit — including poor integration with some major and greater downtown VIA stops (Centro Plaza, Five Points transfer hub, etc) and public sites (UTSA downtown). Related, it is not clear — including from this article — that they are concerned that the annual SA B-Cycle membership rate is now $100, which exceeds what Austinites and folks in Forth Worth pay by $20 and what folks in McAllen pay by $35 to use the same linked network; and

    C. have a desire or aim to encourage a shift to more cycling (and related local bus use and walking) as transit by a more diverse public in San Antonio. This includes with specific goals and plans for the City’s Tricentennial year.

    Council seems to be moving with the City reluctantly towards a local and limited dockless bikeshare ‘pilot’ during SA300 that already seems biased by phantom complaints, aesthetic judgements suggesting a discomfort with everyday cycling and worries for already worrisome SA B-Cycle (with SA B-Cycle seeming to be shaping the regulation and impressions of its competitors before they are even in the city) — instead of bike-as-part-of-equitable-and-healthy-transit aims.

    Quite frankly, I think dockless bikeshare is beyond the scope of the City’s center city operations — including given the failure of City managed B-Cycle to reach densely populated areas of the historic footprint of the city (6 mile by 6 mile square) within easy if often unsupported bike distance of downtown. These areas are sometimes framed for the nation as San Antonio’s “distressed zipcodes,” and residents of these areas are further burdened by poor access to publicly supported transit systems like B-Cycle.

    As various articles state, any perceived “mess” created by dockless bikeshare in the US — a perception which can smack of protectionism and favoritism for docked systems and economic segregation or discomfort with everyday bike use (is anyone concerned about the “mess” of everyday private car use in the central city?) — is worth it.

    And unlike the public health, safety and quality-of-life concerns caused by cars, freight trains or even docked bikeshare systems (as San Antonio is learning) in the central city, problems with dockless bikeshare systems tend to be easily remedied. Quoting urbanist Kristen Jeffers:

    “If you see a [dockless] bike blocking the sidewalk, do what you can to move it over. The bikes are lighter than… [docked] bikeshare bikes and moving them out of the way is not hard.”

    “Do your part as a user too.” Don’t park bikes poorly, but also help signal where more bike parking and other facilities (including wider sidewalks and on-street bike parking spaces) are needed. A comprehensive and active (regularly updated and implemented) bike plan should address these issues.

    As city managers, remember: “isn’t the mass adoption of cycling what we wanted in the first place?” The City should be worried about public health, equity and social cohesion in 2018, and dockless bikeshare is one vehicle that is proving that it can help to address these concerns.


    “Docks Off: U.S. cities are being invaded by dock-less bike share. It’s going to be messy—and worth it.”

    “It’s ok to critique dockless bikeshare. It’s not ok to be bigoted.”

    “Poorest areas have missed out on boons of recovery, study rinds” (which references conditions in San Antonio and zip code 78207 specifically)

    Map of zip code 78207 — which constitute part of an apparent established ‘no B-Cycle zone’ west of the downtown I-10 / I-35 divider. This pattern is also apparent in historic East Side, Five Points and Lone Star neighborhoods and other points within the historic foot print of the city sometimes framed as ‘distressed’:

  6. Reports from Dallas are more critical as reportedly five different companies are battling it out currently in an unregulated market — with photos of vandalized mainly single bikes making the news (cars are vandalized nearly daily in my neighborhood and some are even abandoned on the street, but with no similar coverage).

    Other complaints seem to be directed towards there now being a whole lot of free-range bikes and not much supportive bike parking and other infrastructure in Dallas currently. The ‘eyesore’ seems to be mainly bikes that have fallen over where they are not supported by bike racks (what’s the current public bike rack count, where are they located and how many more racks will be installed in 2018, Council members?)

    Apparently just two dockless bikeshare companies have already resulted in over 140,000 miles being traveled by bikeshare in Dallas since August (which might match or exceed the annual achievements of SA B-Cycle — noting their count of 527k ‘trips’ ever since 2011).

    Dallas reporting is also stressing that private dockless bikeshare companies in the City are responsive to City complaints and negative press and seem to be generating hundreds of new jobs in that city. Dockless bikeshare companies are apparently flocking to Dallas as it is a city perceived as “a regional business leader that attracts innovation and new technologies” [including possibly an Amazon HQ]. Seems like a ‘mess’ San Antonio might be happy to have.

    • I just returned from a weekend trip to Dallas with my daughter. We rode everywhere on the dockless bikes. $1/ride or $1/hr is the typical rate. The dockless ecosystem really feels like version 3.0 compared to San Antonio’s Bcycles. The perceived issue with bikes in the sidewalk is overblown. Dockless will kill Bcycle for sure. I’m ok with that.

  7. Seattle resident here looking for transportation options around San Antonio when coming to visit and stumbled upon this discussion…
    In Seattle, you do see some green/yellow bikes in a bush once in a while and in other stupid places – not unlike poorly parked or driven cars, as noted above. This has improved over time and there are often a few bikes at busy bus stops, suggesting that people are integrating various low carbon modes of transportation. It is nice to have several options to go from A to B especially since traffic here is bad, Uber has outlandish surge pricing and the bus/rail system is not always convenient.
    Having traveled in several cities with different modes of bike share (Montreal (dock), Denver, (dock), San Diego (dockless)), the dockless ones are far easier to make spontaneous, short trips and reduce congestion and travel time as well as a great way to see the city. Finding a dock to park the bike or pick one up adds an unnecessary hurdle to this transportation solution. The city managers could easily put the onus of “bike cleanup” on the companies who could hire staff and be a win-win; these employees could have virtually no carbon footprint as well.
    Also, as noted above, $1/hr is more reasonable and encourages more riding.

    A traveling biker
    ps. Having Amazon in the city was probably great at first … good luck to HQ2. Can you please take HQ1 with you too?

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