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The Chicago region’s current hub-and-spoke transit system leaves nearly half a million Cook County residents stranded in transit deserts.

Dockless bike sharing should complement Divvy

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If managed properly, new bike sharing companies could help fill in gaps in the city’s bike sharing network and offer service in suburban communities without established systems.

Companies like Ofo, JUMP, Limebike, and Spin, are already operating in U.S. cities and considering launching in Chicago. Generally, the bikes can be parked in any public space and users access them via smartphone apps. Riders pay per trip and can use them for as long as they’d like. 

This flexible model could add value in Chicagoland communities where a more structured, docked system isn’t available yet or isn’t feasible given the land use patterns and distance between destinations.

They’ll need to be properly regulated and monitored to ensure basic safety requirements are met.

In some cities, private operators have used bikes that are unsafe or unreliable, and they rarely provide customer service. There’s often no commitment to equity so companies cherry-pick the most profitable service areas and ignore huge swaths of the city. There are images from around the world of disposable bikes piling up in public spaces or dumped in alleys.

This type of behavior in Chicago could damage the generally positive reputation of bike sharing locally and stunt years of progress in the biking movement. City officials must ensure any operators launching in Chicagoland are safe, high-quality, and committed to serving everyone in the city – particularly communities that currently lack bike share.

Active Transportation Alliance believes new bike share companies should be required to meet the following criteria:

  1. New bike share should serve areas where Divvy isn't now, isn't likely to go in the future, or where Divvy needs to be supplemented with additional service to meet demand.
  2. New providers should meet national standards to ensure quality bikes and service.
  3. New providers should coordinate with Chicago and secure required permits before launching.

Steps must be taken to ensure local cities don’t face the pitfalls that developed in other places. The North American Bike Share Association (NABSA) has established a code of conduct for operators with strong guidelines, and some private companies have already signed on. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has outlined what makes a successful bike share system in U.S. cities.

If done right, the operators will complement – not compete – with Divvy and other public operators, boosting affordable access to biking for people throughout the region.

Image Credit: Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times