By Sara Butler | Contributing editor
New form of public transportation looming
A new and colorful trend may be on the horizon for Mission Valley.
In the last month, dockless bikes have appeared all around San Diego. Though a high concentration of them are located in the Uptown and Downtown areas, a handful have appeared in Mission Valley, particularly near transit stops.
Two companies behind these bikes — LimeBike and ofo — both launched in the city of San Diego on Feb. 15. LimeBike, based in Silicon Valley, has been around since June 2017, while ofo, a Chinese company, was founded in 2014. Both have very similar business models — simply put, pick up a bike and pedal away.
Once a resident locates a dockless bike in their immediate area, he or she scans the bike’s QR code using a smartphone app to unlock the back tire and start their trip. The bikes can be left wherever the rider finishes their route.
Bikes do not need to be dropped off at a docking station, which is a primary difference from DiscoverBikes (formerly DecoBikes), a docking bike-share system which the city has had a partnership with since 2015.
This dockless model has raised concerns with Mission Valley commuter Mike, who uses the trolley daily to get from Downtown to his IT job. He has seen many bikes left out in the middle the sidewalk and pedestrian routes, outside of homes, and one up in a tree.
“Today I got an email from a friend who has a nice little corner place in Hillcrest and randomly there are 10 bikes outside — right in his front yard,” Mike said. “It just seems odd that suddenly you can just throw [bikes] all over and expect people to ride them.”
According to LimeBike and ofo’s websites, dockless bikes are permitted on bicycle racks, curbsides away from buildings and next to bus stops. Parked bikes cannot block pedestrian paths, driveways and bus stops, and cannot be placed on street corners or left overturned on the ground.
Each bike is equipped with a GPS device, allowing tracking throughout the city. Both companies have a 24-hour operations team that monitor, move and provide maintenance as needed.
La Mesa resident Morgan and National City resident Alessa, both students at San Diego State University, have seen the bikes around the county. They noted their safety concerns, such as children using the bikes without proper knowledge of the street laws, or minors not using helmets, which is a requirement for anyone under the age of 18.
Though the companies encourage riders to wear protective headgear, currently helmets are not offered with each bike. Signing up for the mobile app only requires a phone number, email address and credit/debit card. No age or legal waiver is requested on the app; however, rider age requirements (age 13 for LimeBike and age 16 for ofo) are listed in online user agreements. Both companies offer safety information and tips on their websites.
As for costs, 30-minute rides are $1 on both systems. However, throughout the month of March, ofo is offering free rides to all residents. According to Anna Wan Christie, general manager of ofo San Diego, this promotion is intended to familiarize the neighborhoods with the newly launched system.
“We want everyone to experience the benefits of ofo’s dockless bike-sharing,” Christie said. “By offering free rides, we’re making it easier for users to become familiar with this new dockless model and learn how it can be a valuable part of their city’s transportation ecosystem.”
LimeBike is also hoping to integrate into the San Diego’s existing transportation system by dropping batches of bikes near public transit stops.
“We place bikes at locations in close proximity to transit routes so riders can easily find and ride our bikes,” said Zach Bartlett, LimeBike San Diego general manager. “Bikes often end up back in these areas due to ridership to these neighborhoods and businesses.”
However, LimeBike has not dropped bikes at any Mission Valley transit stops yet; all bikes seen in the area have been brought into the region by riders.
“LimeBike has not staged any bikes, electric bikes or scooters in Mission Valley,” said LimeBike representative Mary Caroline Pruitt. “LimeBikes located in Mission Valley are from San Diego residents and visitors using them to ride to that neighborhood.”
High volumes of bikes are abundant on major streets in Uptown, such as Texas Street, which connects Mission Valley to Uptown. Downtown resident Felicia, who works in the Mission Valley mall, noted that this route might be how the bikes are arriving to the area.
“I haven’t really noticed them riding them [in Mission Valley], probably because you have to get on the bus or the trolley. Well, you could go down Texas [Street]… but it’s kind of a hill. Probably not going up Texas [Street],” she said, laughing.
Felicia takes public transportation to and from her job in Mission Valley. While she hasn’t used a dockless bike yet, she is open to the concept and said she would consider using it to get home from the trolley.
This reflects the “first-mile and last-mile” problem, which refers to issues that residents may face reaching public transportation, who often have to travel a mile to and from a bus, trolley or other transit stop.
LimeBike and ofo are present throughout many cities, states and countries. LimeBikes are in 45 markets in the U.S. and three in Europe; ofo are in 250 cities across 21 countries.
Additionally, dockless bikes have been a part of the Imperial Beach (IB) community since September 2017. IB signed a six-month trial period with LimeBike, which resulted in over 18,000 trips and more than 7,000 riders.
According to Imperial Beach City Councilmember Mark West, the beach community embraced the new system of transportation. Though the initial need was to address a tourist concern, he noted that most of the current riders are residents, including middle- and high-schoolers commuting to school, as well as those who rely on public transportation.
Andy Hanshaw, San Diego Bike Coalition Executive Director, pointed out that the bikes contribute to the city’s Climate Action Plan, which lists a 6 percent ridership goal by 2020. He notes that the GPS tracking system measures road-share, which will benefit future city planning for bikers.
“[This program] will help determine where we need bike lanes … [the data] tells us where people are actually riding bikes and where we need safe infrastructure,” Hanshaw said.
Though LimeBike and ofo both received city permits to operate, many community planning groups were not consulted prior to the roll out of the bikes.
“While we were able to engage some groups in town before launching, we’re excited to continue building relationships with the community as a valuable partner in helping to reduce carbon emissions, easing traffic congestion, and promoting healthier living,” Christie said.
“There are simply a very staggering number of community groups in San Diego,” Bartlett said. “We also found out about our ability to launch fairly quickly. We were trying to reach out to community groups; we definitely still are. If you’re interested in having a conversation, we’re more than happy to come down and meet with each and every [group].”
Some of these groups not consulted are now taking action. In fact, Christopher M. Gomez, district manager of the Little Italy Association (LIA), made a motion for the city of San Diego to cease and desist all dockless bike share in the entire city.
“Obviously the LIA is concerned with the program … [it] could be an ADA liability or a safety hazard,” Gomez commented. “I expressed our concerns and how our district might be held liable for negligence of users. I also expressed our frustration with the lack of communication about the bikes/scooters before our sidewalks were flooded with rogue units.”
Though LimeBike and ofo are the most prevalent dockless bike brands in San Diego, they aren’t the only two companies on the streets. Others — such as MoBike, JUMP, Spin, and Bird scooters— have also thrown their wheels into the ring.
Though there are no definitive plans or a set date for a Mission Valley arrival, both ofo and LimeBike expressed their desire to grow into the area.
“[ofo] is not yet operating [in Mission Valley], but look forward to expanding soon,” Bennett said.
“[LimeBike] has, and will continue, to conduct a comprehensive outreach program to ensure we’re addressing any challenges and best serving the needs of the community,” Pruitt said.
With only one month in, odds are the dockless bike craze will gain momentum in Mission Valley — and likely raise curious eyebrows of commuters, residents, business owners and tourists in the community.
— Reach Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.