Austin City Council Approves Dockless Bike Share Pilot Program

The Austin City Council allowed a vote on dockless bike shares last week, resulting in an approved plan to launch a year-long pilot program. LimeBike, a California-based company whose dockless bike-share programs have been implemented in cities like Seattle and Dallas, would spearhead the pilot’s creation, designing it with the help of public input. 

During the City Council meeting, councilmembers insisted on a distinct one-year time limit for the program, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The Council also requires a significant degree of oversight where this project is concerned, with Councilmember Ann Kitchen offering her vote of approval on a conditional basis. According to Kitchen, city transportation officials will need to present their plan to City Council’s Mobility Committee before putting the process into action.

Austin lawmakers will exercise caution with this pilot program, due to the difficulties encountered during a similar roll-out in Dallas last year. A hurried launch without clear regulations led to a chaotic dockless bike-share program in Dallas, with the approximately 20,000 LimeBikes clogging sidewalks and haphazardly discarded on trails, posing a safety concern. 

A "lost" LimeBike in Dallas / Courtesy of LimeBike

At Thursday’s meeting, the City Council also discussed measures to expand Austin’s existing bike share program, known as BCycle. Owned by the city and operated by a local non-profit, BCycle represents a more established model of bike sharing, as it’s been in operation for four years and uses a dock-based infrastructure, like successful programs in other major cities. The council voted to allocate $200,000 to BCycle, which will allow for the addition of 100 bikes and 18 docking stations. 

Advocates for BCycle worry that the launch of a dockless bike program will cause stiff competition between the two bike shares, ultimately to the detriment of the initial system. However, the City Council introduced the one-year time limit in order to soothe these concerns. LimeBike’s support from the Council is temporary until they can prove their viability in the Austin marketplace.

LimeBike’s pilot launch date has not been solidified and will depend on public input and the Council’s recommendation.

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