City Gives Dockless Bikes, Scooters a Spin
Wednesday, August 22, 2018 9:00 AM

dockless_2055_2.jpg
The three-speed Lime bicycles have more of a retro look than their bike-share competitor, Nice Ride.

If somehow you haven’t seen them already, dockless bicycles and electric scooters are sprouting all over Como. They are part of parallel but separate projects the City Council approved this month to improve mobility and recreation options throughout Saint Paul.

The dockless projects differ from traditional bike-sharing programs, such as Nice Ride, which require riders to pick up and return a bike to docking stations in specific locations. But you can find – and leave – dockless vehicles just about anywhere.

That built-in flexibility can be an advantage because, in theory, it provides more access for more people in a wider geographic range. (In District 10, however, whether by design or demand, the dockless bikes and scooters – just like Nice Ride bikes – tend to cluster in Como Park.)

The flexibility of dockless vehicles also can be a problem. Riders of dockless scooters and bikes are supposed to park them in boulevards or other public right-of-way where they are out of the way. That means they are not supposed to park the bikes and scooters on sidewalks, at bus stops, in driveways, or other places where they are an obstacle. But that isn’t always happening. Often, the bikes and scooters simply look like they are abandoned.

The novelty of the scooters, in particular, also brings its own learning curve. The scooters are allowed on streets, bike lanes, and -- in many parts of the city -- on bike paths. But the scooters – which can travel as fast as 15 miles an hour when fully charged – are not allowed on sidewalks or on trails in city parks. That means they are not supposed to be ridden in Como Park or on Wheelock Parkway, for example. That isn’t always happening, either.

How they work
Both types of two-wheel transportation rely on a smartphone app. Riders use the app to locate, unlock, and pay for their ride. Two companies – Lime and Bird – have contracts with the city for scooters; Lime also has a bicycle agreement. (Bird, which started its program in Saint Paul earlier this summer without city permission, now is legit.)

The Lime and Bird scooters cost $1 to unlock, plus 15 cents a minute to ride. Lime bikes cost $1 to unlock, plus $1 for every 30 minutes of riding.

Nice Ride bicycles, in comparison, cost $2 per half hour, but $1 per half hour if riders pay using the Nice Ride mobile app, rather than a credit card. Nice Ride also has single-day, 30-day, and annual memberships that allow riders some free ride time. All the companies have fleets of drivers who redistribute the vehicles every night (and, in the case of scooters, recharge them).

What’s required
The scooters are part of a pilot project the city is running with Bird and Lime through Nov. 30. Each company can deploy up to 150 scooters in the city. “The city will be evaluating how things go,” says Ellen Biales, a manager in Public Works, which is overseeing the pilot project. “That may tell us what steps city may take long term.”

The companies pay the city $1 a day for each scooter they deploy.

The bikes are part of a contract the city signed with Lime for 2018 and 2019 after a competitive bidding process. Lime must deploy at least 500 bikes, and is allowed to deploy as many as 2,000. The company pays the city $20 per bike per year.

Lime will replace Nice Ride as Saint Paul’s bike share vendor after this season, though the companies are allowed to co-exist until Nice Ride packs up its docking stations in fall. Lime is allowed to keep bikes out in winter, Biales says, though it is not clear if that will happen.

The city’s contracts require Bird and Lime to deploy their vehicles throughout the city – and to redistribute them more evenly (within two hours) – if the city determines there is “excessive accumulation,” Biales says.

If they’re in the way
The companies also are required to move the bikes and scooters if users leave them on a sidewalk or somewhere else where they are in the way – or, in Biales’ words, “impeding pedestrians or traffic.”

If a bike or scooter is in the way, pedestrians or drivers can move it on their own (if they can -- which isn't necessarily easy, because the wheels lock). The scooters also “yell at you if you try to move them without paying,” Biales says.

If a bike or scooter is dumped where it is blocking a sidewalk, path, or street, the first thing to do is call the company directly. Bird’s toll-free number is 1-866-205-2442. Lime’s is 1-888-546-3345. Only if that doesn’t work, Biales says, should residents call Public Works: 651-266-6100.

If you've got comments

  • Remember, the scooters in particular are a pilot project. If you've got comments about the scooters and dockless bicycles that are related specifically to their impact -- good, bad, or mixed -- on parkland, email Cherisse Turner.
  • If you have comments about the dockless scooters and bicycles in general, email Public Works.

Originally published Aug. 24; updated Aug. 31.

District 10 Como Community Council | 1224 Lexington Pkwy N, Saint Paul, MN 55103 | 651.644.3889 | district10 [at] district10comopark.org

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