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Going dockless in the District

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The recent warm weather has increased the usage of dockless bikes as seen in Silver Spring.

SILVER SPRING — Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT) made a deal with companies LimeBike, Ofo, Mobike and Spin in fall 2017 to bring free bikes to areas of Silver Spring and Takoma Park.

The agreement is part of an initiative taken up by MCDOT to urge commuters to look at environmentally-friendly transportation alternatives. 

Montgomery County is operating under a trial program currently but MCDOT hopes to continue the partnership beyond the scheduled seven-month term.

A Mobike parked at the intersection of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring
A Capital Bikeshare in the downtown area

Capital Bikeshare, one of the older and more popular bike companies in D.C., opts for a traditional dock system controlled by a machine where customers can pay and unlock their bike.

Although customers of Capital Bikeshare have the option to return their bike to any station, many find it a hassle to unlock their bike and then make their way back to the nearest dock.

To be able to use the Capital Bikeshare bikes, customers must first buy an $8 membership, which includes a 30-minute ride. For a ride that’s 60 minutes or longer, prices can reach $14.

A neatly arranged row of LimeBikes.
Lime Bikes placed next to a Capital Bikeshare dock station on the Montgomery College Silver Spring Campus.

LimeBike, on the other hand, offers 30 minutes of riding for $1. Ofo boasts one hour of riding for $1. Both occasionally offer periods during which customers can get free rides. 

The advantages go beyond prices.

Unlike the clunky Capital Bikeshare bikes which can be found only at their docking stations (located in city hubs or on college campuses), LimeBike, Ofo and other dockless bike companies have capitalized on the urban population of bike users by placing their bikes in city centers and busy public spaces.

“The experience [of using dockless bikes] has been nearly seamless — it is extremely affordable, the app is easy to use and there is always a bike around when I need it,” says Joshua Bernstein, a resident of Takoma Park and regular bike commuter.

On Jan. 22, 2017, Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT) sponsored a public forum on dockless bikes.

MCDOT representatives opened the forum by explaining their motivations behind bringing dockless companies to the area and providing a general overview of the program before opening the floor to public discussion.

“This past summer I was making a presentation at a conference in China, and during that conference I became acquainted with the dockless bikeshare,” Al Roshdieh, Director of MCDOT, said at the forum. “When I came back, I said ‘Let’s take a look into this because there is an application in our community.’”

A woman rides a Mobike in Beijing, China

LimeBike was founded in the United States, but many other dockless bike share companies — most notably Mobike and Ofo — initially began in China.

Bikes were already a common and popular method of transportation in dense cities like Beijing.

A dockless bike sits on a Beijing street.

With the ideas of people like Roshdieh, dockless bikes have since grown in popularity in the DMV area. 

The recent warm weather has increased the use of dockless bikes in Silver Spring.
A man in Downtown Silver Spring is riding on a LimeBike.
On the Takoma Park – DC border, a man is seen riding a bike from Capital Bikeshare.
People investigate Ofo bikes outside of Pizza Movers in Takoma Park.

After the seven-month pilot program ends, MCDOT and the four dockless bikeshare companies will discuss the success of the program in the county and will decide whether or not to keep the bikes in Silver Spring and Takoma Park.

Bernstein is optimistic that these dockless bikes will have a bright future and hopes to get “more and more people to ride and advocate for bikes.”

“Anything that gets people out of their cars is a step in the right direction,” he says.

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