Facing protests from dockless bike-sharing companies, Boulder's City Council nonetheless voted unanimously late Tuesday to launch a pilot program intended to limit where the free-floating cycles end up.
The program, which will last two years, will limit operators to fleets of 100 bikes, with an option for 50 additional e-bikes or adaptive cycles. It will also require all bicycles be able to lock to something via a built-in mechanism, in order to prevent bikes being abandoned in sidewalks or public rights-of-way, a problem that has plagued other cities that have allowed dockless bikes.
"We're trying to be proactive with this ordinance and avoid negative consequences," said Senior Transportation Planner David Kemp.
The two largest bikeshare companies, Lime and ofo, sent representatives to a public hearing that featured a sole Boulder resident speaker. Both liaisons said the city's rules would discourage them from doing business here.
"There is nothing more (these companies) want than to be in Boulder," said Marcus Pachner, an ofo consultant. But the 100-bike limit is "simply too low," added Nike Barber, of Lime, and requiring bikes that can lock to things will keep the biggest companies out of the mix, said ofo's Patrick Quintana, reducing the quality of service.
Three companies with lock-to bikes have expressed interest in starting fleets here, Kemp said. The industry in general is moving toward locking mechanisms, he argued, partially due to complaints from city governments.
Still, Pachner argued, mandating such features was not necessary.
"It's a very sophisticated bike culture here," he adds. "We think our customers will park them in racks."
In response to the companies' claims, Councilman Bob Yates read from a recent Denver Channel 7 news report that detailed frequent complaints about discarded Lime and ofo bikes. Responses from the operators were hard to come by, the article stated.
"If Aurora's held up as the model of perfection," Yates said — both Lime and ofo called the city out as a success story — "I'm not sure we want to be that."
Several council members supported allowing more than 100 initial bikes per operator. Under the program, fleets can increase in size every quarter if the operator meets performance standards. And companies will be allowed an additional 50 bikes if they are electric or adaptive.
"I think a measured start to this is the way to go," Councilman Sam Weaver said. "We can see if companies do as they claim and come get their bikes out of the right-of-way."
The pilot does not include allowances for electric scooters, which have made headlines in Denver recently for similar issues. But at least two council members, Aaron Brockett and Mirabai Nagle, expressed tentative support for a test of the transportation devices sometime in the future.
Brockett directed the Transportation Advisory Board to begin looking into possible regulations for scooters "within the year."