By Barrett Brown
In the fall of 2020, Lyft, working with the City of Portland, dramatically expanded and upgraded Portland, Oregon’s bikeshare system, called Biketown. The expansion included adding an additional 13-square mile area for the city and the introduction of an entirely electric fleet, solidifying Biketown’s unique relevance among bikeshare systems (check out our nonprofit’s cool 2-minute video on the system here.) This got us thinking about the different models of shared micromobility we’ve seen in cities so far — docked, dockless, and hybrid — and what are some of the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Fully docked-based systems
Larger American cities like New York and San Francisco have embraced a fully dock-based system which is more efficient to manage, leading to higher reliability for the customer. These systems are extremely dense and a customer is never more than a few blocks away from a station — for example, in New York, there’s an average of 28 per square mile. This allows users to rely on the system as they would any other form of mass transit, leading to high rates of use for commuting.
Data from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) shows that station-based bikeshare systems experience their highest ridership during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Additionally, these systems are more heavily used during the weekdays than their dockless counterparts, suggesting that station-based bikeshare systems are more likely to be used for commuting.
Although these systems serve as a great example of how user habits can be spurred through operation reliability, they are not easily replicated in less densely-populated cities. NACTO states, “Smaller station-based bike share systems without a dense network of stations or a large number of bikes had low vehicle utilization rates, as the factors that make a bike share system successful — a high number of bikes conveniently placed over a large area — were absent.”
Over the past few years, numerous dockless micromobility providers have launched programs in less densely populated cities, however. Data from NACTO suggest they are more typically used for recreation on weekends than by commuters.
Dockless systems also present challenges for city planners, as they are often faced with the prospect of regulating hundreds if not thousands of bikes or scooters scattered across the landscape. Similar to Portland’s system Biketown, these systems place the technology in the vehicle itself instead of a station, allowing bikes or scooters to be remotely unlocked and used.
Dock and Dockless System Hybrid
Biketown, Portland’s bikeshare system, began its life in 2017 unique among bikeshares, as it was the first major one to include both the reliability of a dock-based system and the flexibility of a free-floating one. Users can access the bikes at one of the 180 stations placed all across the city or can find free-floating ones on their phones. If they bring it back to a station, it’s free to park it, or if someone doesn’t want to park it at a station, they can lock it at any bike rack in the service area for an additional $1.
In the first month of Biketown’s operation, users took approximately 59,000 trips totalling 136,000 miles, exceeding all expectations. In 2018, the system grew to include 147 stations, with nearly 400,000 rides being completed in that year. Biketown’s equity program, Biketown for All, also expanded, with 495 active members who completed 36,089 trips.
But as shared electric scooters and electric bikes started to dominate the scene, suddenly Portland’s Biketown — with its heavy, 45-pound bikes — needed a refresh.
In the summer of 2020, Lyft and the City of Portland announced that they would be upgrading the entire Biketown fleet to electric bikes. The hope is that this will significantly increase access to shared bikes amongst those who may not consider themselves “cyclists.” This expansion included increasing the geographical footprint of the system by 13 square miles and adding several historically underserved neighborhoods into the operating area. These dramatic improvements, in addition to the hybrid nature of the system, make the new Biketown truly revolutionary. Key barriers to access have been removed, and with proper regulation from the city, Biketown has the potential to become a “gold standard” for bikeshare in less densely populated urban areas. Check out our video of how Biketown works and let us know about the shared micromobility in your community and whether it works for you or doesn’t:
Barrett Brown lives in Portland, Oregon, and works as a program manager for Forth, an electric mobility advocate. Barrett has spent numerous years working in the bikeshare industry and is an advocate for bikeshare as a sustainable and enjoyable form of transportation.