Cities, Not States, Should Call the Shots on Bike Share

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COMMENTARY | Florida's legislature rejected statewide bike share policies. A bike share company's director of mobility strategy explains why it's the right move.

Several years ago cities struggled with the expense of installing and maintaining bulky bike share stations and payment kiosks. Today, cities are struggling with a different beast: the clutter of free-roaming bikes that can be discarded anywhere. Preserving an organized transportation system is an important function of a city’s public works departments; the key theme here is that these are city-specific challenges, and they are more than capable of handling them.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials emphasizes the localized nature of bike share programs and believes that “bike share systems work when they are part of a city’s overall transportation network and vision.” The North American Bikeshare Association shares this sentiment by saying that for a bike share to succeed, “it is essential for the local government to understand the goals they want to accomplish by implementing a bike share system, and clearly lay out the process for access and use of the public right-of-way.”

Notice that both statements underscore the city and local government, not the state.

Some might argue that state oversight of bike share programs is ideal since lawmakers in the capital can implement centralized legislature that would standardize their approach to bike share programs, but there are several reasons why this isn’t realistic or feasible. From my perspective, here are three of those reasons:

1) A One-Size-Fits-All Approach Doesn’t Work

The state of Florida recently had some legislation on the table that would’ve negated cities' authority over free-roaming (dockless) bike share companies. The bill, which was subsequently defeated, would’ve prevented local governments from levying taxes or any type of business fee(s). It would’ve also meant that cities couldn’t require local licenses. Stripping away local control and forcing a cookie cutter approach would’ve curbed widespread success because every city has unique needs when it comes to infrastructure, aesthetics and accessibility.

2) Informed Regulations Could Help

NACTO has warned that unregulated bike shares can hamper transportation in cities. City regulations—based on firsthand knowledge and local insights—could create some real positives for bike share programs, like designated parking zones for free-roaming bikes and stricter policies in residential areas. Statewide oversight, on the other hand, will not fundamentally improve local transportation systems. In fact, the further removed the oversight, the more fruitless the regulations.

3) Direct Access to Data Is Paramount

Cities need to know how many trips are being taken, who’s taking them, where they’re going and when they’re traveling. Despite all of the headaches in Dallas, data from their bike share program has shown that 70 percent of bike trips “start near public transit stops, which means people are using the bikes to make last-mile connections from transit to their destinations.” Bike share data provides these insights and will help cities make better transportation decisions. They should have direct access to this information and bike share companies should make it easily and directly accessible to them, which we’re starting to see in cities like Washington, D.C.

Transportation planners understand the success of any local mobility solution relies on local knowledge and expertise of the spaces around each city and this is especially true for bike share planning and operations. Bike share programs are thriving in hundreds of jurisdictions throughout the country, but not all bike share systems are created equal. One size definitely does not fit all.

It’s for all of these reasons that I, and many others, believe cities should insist on local governance for public transportation services. A city’s ability to implement pilot projects, link to existing infrastructure and services, and adapt to its community’s needs are paramount to success. Bike share programs need to center around everything local: residents, green spaces, infrastructure, businesses and even tourists.

Andy Boenau is the Director of Mobility Strategy at The Gotcha Group—a mobility-as-a-service company that brings together mobility, media, and brand/consumer engagement.

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