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San Antonio B-Cycle Considering Dockless Bike Sharing System

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
San Antonio B-Cycle currently uses a system of docked bikes that can be checked out and re-docked at another station when the rider is done.

A dockless bike sharing system could be coming to San Antonio as part of a pilot program between the city and San Antonio Bike Share, operator of San Antonio B-Cycle system.

Dockless bikes are used in other cities and have seen successes and challenges in a new technology that may not be regulated. The city and San Antonio B-Cycle want to craft their own policies before companies begin bringing in bikes.

“We want to come back to this body with a policy on how to regulate this dockless system and get ahead of if,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told the San Antonio City Council’s transportation committee in a briefing on the technology Tuesday.

San Antonio B-Cycle, like many bike share systems, use a network of kiosks, where users can check out a bike in one location and drop it off at another. A dockless system allows users to check out a bike that’s unsecured and can be dropped off almost anywhere when finished.

“Our next generation of bikes is going to not require a station but will still have the controls of a station based system,” said J.D. Simpson, executive director of San Antonio Bike Share.

San Antonio B-Cycle launched in 2011 with about 140 bikes and 11 check-out kiosks in and around downtown; it saw about 24,000 trips taken that year. It now has 62 stations and 525 bikes with about 5,300 annual members using the service. About 136,000 trips were taken in 2017.

Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Bike Share Exeuctive Director JD Simpson answers questions from District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales at a San Antonio City Council Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday

In most cases, the wheels of dockless bikes are locked and can be unlocked using an app, which allows users to scan a QR code. Users are then charged a time-based fee — sometimes one dollar for every 30 minutes — while checking out the bike.

Washington D.C., Seattle, Dallas and other cities have seen companies run into problems with bikes ending up in lakes or blocking public right of ways when the user is finished.

Dallas currently has 20,000 dockless bikes on its streets, but some bikes have been seen in trees or blocking sidewalks and ramps. Dallas City Manager T.C. Barodnax sent a letter to bike share companies last week asking them to remove bikes blocking certain locations by Feb. 9. Dallas does not currently have bike share regulation in place. Austin has had similar challenges and Houston is considering a pilot program, as well.

District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said he experienced dockless bikes in Darmstadt, Germany last year while on a delegation trip with the city. He described the scene as really messy “like there wasn’t a rhyme or reason for these bikes to be where they were."

“I’m not sure that tech is where we want it to be,” he said. “I mean, I’m OK if we never have dockless bikes.”

One option is San Antonio B-Cycle may use a geo-fencing system requiring the bikes to be dropped off in specific locations without the need for a kiosk.

District 4 Councilman Rey Saldana, who chairs the committee, seemed optimistic about the possibility of introducing a dockless system.

“What I’m excited about is a wise person learns from their mistakes but an even wiser person learns from other people’s mistakes,” he said. “I think that’s what we’ve got here, to learn from some of the mistakes that maybe have occurred in maybe Houston, or Dallas, or Austin.”

The transportation committee could evaluate a pilot proposal in as early as two months.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules