Brightly colored bicycles have been popping up on street corners and curbs around Washington, D.C., in the past week, as various companies like Spin, LimeBike and JUMP have rolled out new dockless bike-share programs.
Unlike other bike-share programs that require users to leave bikes at designated docks, these bikes are tracked by GPS and can be left nearly anywhere in the city after each use.
Among the companies to unveil this new program is China-based company Mobike. D.C. is the first city in the United States where Mobike has introduced this program.
“We are thrilled to call Washington D.C. Mobike’s first home in North America,” Mobike CEO Hu Weiwei said in a press release. “We look forward to working with more cities across the nation to make cycling the most convenient, affordable, and environmentally friendly transportation option for residents and tourists alike.”
The bikes were modified to best fit the needs of D.C. cyclists, with several gears added and the shape of the bikes altered. One key component is the bikes’ built-in GPS functions that serve as a theft-prevention device, in addition to making it convenient for users to track the location of the bicycles.
In order to use the bikes, users must scan a QR code from the Mobike app, unlocking the front wheel. In order to return the bike, users simply slide a lever to lock the bike after parking it at an appropriate location.
Mobike and other dockless bike-share programs offer an alternative to Capital Bikeshare, a bike-sharing program with docking stations located around the city, including one outside the front gates of the university. Renting a Capital Bikeshare bike costs $2 for 30 minutes, compared to $1.50 for 30 minutes for a Mobike bike. However, if users park their Mobike bikes incorrectly, fines could reach up to $100 per half hour.
Some D.C. residents are excited about the prospect of a dockless bike program. Lainey Giles (COL ’20) said that she has used Capital Bikeshare on warm days to get around the city, but had trouble finding a location to dock the bikes.
“What was frustrating about it was it was very difficult to find a place to return them. My friends and I tried several different stations and they were all full with people backed up, waiting to return bikes,” Giles said.
Giles said that she would be more likely to use bikes as a means of transportation if she did not have to worry about finding a place to dock them.
“I know that right now I would be hesitant to use Capital Bikeshare again, especially on a day when I thought that it would be really heavily used. But if I knew that I would have a place where I could definitely return it, I would be much more likely to use it again,” Giles said. “I think that if this new system works, it’s really promising and I think that it would be a really exciting change.”
Mobike has said that they hope to expand their U.S. presence beyond D.C. in the future.
“We are working with a number of cities across the country and are confident this successful pilot will be the first of many partnerships, allowing us to make cycling the most convenient and affordable choice for transportation all around America,” Mobike U.S. General Manager Rachel Song said in a press release.