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Gear Prudence: What’s the story with all the new colorful bikes everywhere? I’ve seen like five (?) new kinds of bikeshares, and people just leave the bikes wherever. We already have a bikesharing system (red bikes). Do we really need yellow, green, and orange ones too? Who is this actually helping? People who want different color bikes to match their outfits? — Definitely Omnipresent, Colorful, Kooky. Left Everywhere, Sometimes Sidewalks
Dear DOCKLESS: Nowadays bikesharing in D.C. is like a bag of Skittles, but for some reason you’re reticent to ride the rainbow. GP is going to try to crunch through your hard candy shell to reach your gooey inner bits and hope those coagulate into a wad of greater understanding of the current state of bikesharing.
Beyond color, there are some key differences between the extant Capital Bikeshare system and the new bikesharing options. Bikeshare is regional, whereas the “dockless” bikeshare bikes are mostly limited to D.C. Capital Bikeshare bikes have stations—a set number of locations where riders pick up and drop off bikes—while the new bikesharing options can be left more or less anywhere (but not in the middle of the sidewalk, please, or in restricted zones like the National Mall). With dockless systems you can take the bike directly to your final destination, which is super convenient, and lock up the rear wheel to end your trip. The bikes themselves are also different in terms of weight, gearing, baskets, etc., and the ride quality varies accordingly. One company even provides electric-assist bicycles, which are great if you need a little boost. Since dockless bikes can be left and found anywhere, there’s less predictability. If you don’t see one in front of you, use an app to find it and unlock it. Each company has its own app, so your phone might get a little crowded.
Who does this help? People who want options and flexibility; people who live in areas that don’t have Capital Bikeshare stations or have stations that fill up and empty very quickly; people who want a lighter bike or a bike with a motor; people who only want to pay a dollar a trip (that seems to be a going rate for 30 minutes) and don’t want a longer membership; people who can’t resist a ride on a whim when they see a bike.
GP is a fan of more bikes and more choices, especially if the increase in supply spurs more trips overall rather than shifting riders from one bikesharing system to another. If the goal is more bicycling by more people in more places, these new systems can play a role in achieving it. —GP