Sara Butler | Editor
New form of public transportation emerges in Uptown
Walking around any of the Uptown neighborhoods lately, it’s hard not to spot them scattered on the sidewalks. No, the spectacle isn’t hipsters — but bright green and yellow bikes.
In the last month, dockless bikes have appeared all around San Diego, with a high concentration located in the Uptown and Downtown areas. 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 a few concerns among residents, such as Trisha Kuhlmye, manager of the Liquid Eden Holistic Center located on the corner of Adams Avenue and 32nd Street. Though the bikes haven’t caused an issue for her business, she notices that they are often left out in the middle the sidewalk and pedestrian routes, including outside her store.
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, often study in the Uptown area and 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 bikesharing,” 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.
“Our bikes are distributed throughout the Uptown neighborhoods,” said Zach Bartlett, LimeBike San Diego general manager. “We place bikes at locations in close proximity to transit routes so riders can easily find and ride our bikes. Bikes often end up back in these areas due to ridership to these neighborhoods and businesses.”
High volumes of bikes are abundant on major streets, such as Adams Avenue, University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard. Tyler Harry, a Normal Heights resident, has noticed bikes in many of his nearby neighborhoods, including Kensington and Hillcrest.
“They seem really great. I’ve got a bike myself so I haven’t picked one up, but I guess for people who are visiting they seem pretty handy,” Harry said. “I hope it lasts and I hope people are responsible with the way that they use the system.”
Kensington resident Paul Jamason — who often uses LimeBike and ofo — thinks these bikes are an inexpensive alternative to driving, as well as help mitigate theft, provide transportation equity, and offer day-to-day convenience.
“Dockless bikes are the solution to the ‘last-mile’ problem of public transit,” Jamason said. “I recently rode one from the SR-15 rapid bus stop on El Cajon Boulevard to my house, which saved me a 15-minute walk. And I use them to run errands around my neighborhood.”
The “first-mile and last-mile” problem 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.
Though the dockless bike phenomenon has only been present in Uptown for less than a month, Harry — who recently moved to the community from North Carolina — noted that he also saw something similar implemented on the East Coast.
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 the LimeBikes and ofos are the most prevelant dockless bike brands in the Uptown arena, 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.
With only one month in, odds are the dockless bike craze will continue to gain momentum in the neighborhoods — and likely raise curious eyebrows of residents, business owners and tourists in the neighborhood.
[Editor’s note: We will be providing ongoing coverage of dockless bikes and their impact on different Uptown neighborhoods, and would love to hear more input from residents, business owners, members of community planning groups and others. If you are interested in sharing your thoughts or experiences on the topic, please email email@example.com.]
— Sara Butler is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.