Updating Bike Share Program Can Solve the City’s Scooter Problem

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Lyft scooters are not docked properly in a designated parking area.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Lyft scooters are not docked properly in a designated parking area.

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.

10 thoughts on “Updating Bike Share Program Can Solve the City’s Scooter Problem

  1. I agree, the SWell cycles need to be updated and these are great ideas. I’m not sure if they’ve updated their pricing, but the last time I used a SWell cycle (it was a B-Cycle then), it was about $10 to unlock and then needed to be docked every 1/2 hour to avoid usage fees. The rates have come down since then, but are still quite rigid compared to the dockless vehicles( $0.15 per min vs. $3.25 for 0-30 minutes.)

  2. Seriously, Rivard? You had someone who who operates a bike tour company write an opinion piece that vouches for the elimination of scooters? Wake up, naysayers! People would rather ride scooters than bikes. Stop trying to fight it and instead work to improve the systems and modes of transportation that the people want.

  3. I would love to see more support of Swell Cycle as well. Not as a way to say no to other ways of getting around but because it is a NONPROFIT and paved the way for other forms of transportation in San Antonio. And it keeps it local. My husband and I moved here in 2016 after a 2014 visit and we saw that San Antonio was investing in different ways to get around. I really wish San Antonio would have been patient with the Scooter invasion. Started off with local group Blue Ducks instead.

    I laugh when people say San Antonio’s original bike share isn’t affordable. Oh my goodness…. get the facts. Memberships right now for A YEAR are $50 for the month of May but otherwise $100 a year (but you can get a good discount on “Alamo Commutes” if you report your rides/carpooling/bus trips). They have now made it so you can keep a bike out for an hour instead of a half an hour because it’s one of the longest distances between the furthest bike shares (Mission Espada to Trinity University). They offer $3.25 quick trip rides, $12.99 day pass, or a month pass is only $19.49).

    The thing is people don’t like to plan in advance and they are willing to pay more because of it. Swell Cycle is getting a fleet of E-Bikes. And yes there needs to be more stations and more coverage, but they need more support and memberships to so. This is an important discussion as I don’t want San Antonio to kill it’s original bike share.

    • I’m not going to support a non-profit just because it’s a non-profit. As everyone knows, being a non-profit does not prevent or limit the amount of money the company can make. It just means their primary purpose for existing cannot be to make a profit and any profit made must be reinvested in the company. All charities are non-profits but not all non-profits are charities.

    • Sadly the 25 ebikes that Swell is getting pale in comparison to what Jump can offer in terms of units. Thats the difference between a local entity and a VC backed Silicon Valley company. It is not feasible to consider 25 bikes a transportation solution. Until Swell can compete with real numbers they really can’t complain about competition from others who operate on the correct scale.

  4. Bikes are great and should be supported and promoted. That said, many people like the scooters because it doesn’t require mounting a bike which for reasons of health, physical limitations, and even clothing that can be akward on a bike such as dresses and skirts make a scooter preferable.

  5. I am 62…I have switched my preference to scooters,as the bikes are more difficult. Scooters are nimble and a smarter way to go,go,go !

  6. The Howard Peak Greenway Trail System provides a loop about the size of Loop 410. Add the River Walk trail system, and, San Antonio has a national treasure of 200 miles of connected nature trails, and growing.

    Walking and biking is already popular on these nature trails. E bikes, more entry points, and sidewalks should be facilitated and properly integrated.

    See the new website, NatureTrailMaps.net to use the 200 miles of nature trails.

  7. The SWell Cycle bikes look like yesterdays technology next to the Jump bikes. The constant having to look for a dock to avoid ridiculous fees made riding them a frustrating endeavor. Then there is the issue of where the SWell Cycle docks are placed. (Here is the map: https://sanantonio.bcycle.com/explore/our-maps) The severely economically depressed west and east sides of town do not have any of these bikes available. One would think that these sides of town would benefit the most from alternative multi-modal transportation. Instead, these bikes are placed in the tourist areas of SA. Now that scooters and dockless ebikes have arrived, the SWell Cycles collect dust. The cost and convenience of dockless mobility has effectively rendered the SWell cycles moot.

    How about converting the SWell cycles to dockless bikes, removing the docks and installing bike racks where the docks are currently located. This would create more areas for scooters and bikes to be placed out of the way of sidewalks. Invest in putting these bicycles in the lower socioeconomic communities that need transportation alternatives the most.

    • I like having docks for bikes. I like to know where I can find a bike and I made a decision to not carry a smart phone so dockless bikes don’t work for everyone. I don’t have to fiddle on my phone, I just ride. And as a member i get a cool little key fob and can unlock a bike in 5 seconds. I don’t think we need to pit each system against the other but I like investing in local nonprofits who spend their money locally, that makes sense to me as well as was the pioneer in the field. If you have comments to share, I’m sure Swell Cycle would like to hear them because like any other service-orientated member based system, they do adapt and change as our city does as well as our local needs.

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