Representatives from two of four local dockless vehicle-sharing companies – Bird and Ofo – attended. LimeBikes was invited but was a no show. Mobike is another recent market entry.
“The intent of this forum is to talk about the rollout of these new bike programs, so we’ve reached out inviting speakers from the companies to answer questions about policy, infrastructure, safety and other concerns,” said OBPB chair John Ambert.
Carl Hansen spoke for the black-hued electric, stand-up Bird scooters, which are increasingly dominating the coastal landscape. Hansen said Bird and competitors are offering something new and different.
“We want to provide as many options to gas-guzzling, carbon-generating cars as possible that are dockless and easily accessible,” said Hansen. “We need to make sure these new transportation choices are convenient, while being thoughtful about how we interact with the communities.”
Anna Wan Christie, of the yellow Ofo bikes, billed as the world’s original and largest station-free bike-sharing platform, which is in more than 20 countries, talked about bikeshare’s purpose.
“We want to provide that first- and last-mile transportation for people to get them out of their cars for the good of the environment,” said Wan Christie. “We want to be good neighbors with everybody.”
Dockless bikes are operated and locked by a smartphone app that employs GPS technology. Operators said all they are required to have, to be legal, is a city business license. Dockless bikes currently cost approximately $1 to $2 per-hour to rent.
Both dockless reps responded to criticism their products are strewn helter-skelter making them eyesores and safety hazards. The reps claimed their bikes are picked up each evening after-hours, stored centrally off-street, then redistributed early the next day.
OBPB was split on its attitude toward the new dockless vehicles. Some members were receptive to them in principle. But others, like Richard Aguirre, were sour on the new alternative-transportation mode.
“You [bike share operators] don’t pay taxes like brick-and-mortar businesses that you’re coming in and competing with, crushing them and putting them out of business,” Aguirre said. “We need our small businesses.
“We don’t need corporate bike-share coming in here fleecing our community. You’re trying to take over the whole market. That’s not the way it should be. I hope someone stops you vultures.”
“It costs a lot to buy and maintain bikes. These dockless rentals are undercutting guys like myself,” said a traditional beach bike shop owner from the audience.
Board member Craig Klein didn’t see how the dockless business model can be sustainable.
“This tech stuff, $1 an hour … It just doesn’t seem like your investors are going to get their money back,” Klein said.
Klein also asked why dockless providers weren’t concerned about their bikes being stolen – or scavenged in coastal communities where bike theft is rampant. Wan Christie, of Ofo, said theft of GPS-tracked bikes hasn’t thus far been an issue.
After an unsuccessful motion to ask the city to restrict dockless bike share rentals to locals, OBPB opted instead to ask the city for a tentative timeline on crafting a new set of regulations governing their operation. They also voted to present the city with recommendations to reign in dockless bike share programs.
“I’ve got a whole list,” said Ambert.