City kills its docked bike share program, launches pilots for dockless scooters and bikes

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Mayor Catherine Pugh about to ride a Lime scooter. Still from video video Facebook/Mayor Catherine Pugh.

The Baltimore Bike Share system as we know it is no more, city officials announced today, capping a very troubled 22-month run in Charm City for operator Bewegen. In its place, the city is implementing a pilot program with two dockless transit providers, Bird scooters, which you’ve likely already seen around town this summer, and Lime, which offers rentable bikes and scooters.

The pilot programs will each run six months at no direct cost to the city, Department of Transportation Director Michelle Pourciau told reporters at a press conference today. Each company will be permitted to bring as many as 1,000 vehicles of each type that it offers to Baltimore during that period. That means Lime, which offers bicycles, electric-assisted bicycles and scooters, will be permitted up to 3,000 vehicles in total, and Bird can bring in up to 1,000 of its scooters.

Thereafter, DOT will “assess and evaluate the effectiveness of a dockless program” to develop regulations for future dockless transit plans.

“Our ultimate goal is to give the citizens of Baltimore, as well as our visitors and those who come here to work every day, the ability to access a robust dockless program that works for everyone,” Pourciau said.

The city is now busily removing all things Bewegen from Baltimore’s streets, including the existing docks and the manually operated and electric-assisted bikes. The $2.4 million program launched in October 2016, promising a system with 500 bikes spread throughout the city.

It soon encountered challenges with vandalism and theft, however, leading Baltimore Bike Share to temporarily shut down for a month and then re-boot in October of 2017. The re-do included a specially made “Baltimore lock” that was intended to be able to weather damage from thieves and vandals, as well as “always-on GPS” tracking for all bikes.

But vandalism, theft and other issues persisted. As Brian Seel detailed in an investigation for Baltimore Fishbowl last month, the system crumbled over time as Bewegen and Corps Logistics, the company hired to maintain the bikes and re-stock the stations, failed to keep the two-wheelers in rotation.

As of mid-July, around 200 bikes were found to be missing from the system, and merely six bikes could be checked out during a survey of more than half of the docks in the system, while another 25 sat inoperable that day. Some docks were broken to the point where bikes could not lock in, leaving electric-assisted ones unable to charge and others prone to theft.

“It’s ending because we need to back up and reevaluate where we are,” Pourciau said Wednesday. She acknowledged a number of issues, including maintenance and poor “rotation of those bikes regularly.”

“We’re seeing, like in other jurisdictions, that the number of bikes and where and how to reload, how to recycle those bikes to have [them] where they’re needed, is something that we’re still challenged with.”

All of the Bewegen bikes will be removed by this Friday. Those who’ve purchased memberships with the Bewegen-run system are asked to contact DOT at (410) 396-6802 by Sept. 30 for a refund.

Shortly after leaving the press conference, Mayor Catherine Pugh went joyriding on both Bird and Lime electric scooters around the sidewalk bordering City’s Hall’s front lawn. The mayor’s press team recorded the whole thing in a livestream.

The pilot program agreements with Bird and Lime will require each company to place bikes and scooters in areas where 40 percent of households earn less than $25,000 annually. Liz Cornish, executive director the city’s cycling advocacy nonprofit Bikemore, said the fact that the vehicles are dockless—the companies pay motivated individuals to recharge and replace them in various areas—”provides an exciting option to make them accessible.”

“The city of Baltimore is leading the way in terms of how cities are developing these pilot programs,” she said, “and one of those ways is to ensure that there are more bikes and scooters in the neighborhoods that need transportation options the most.”

Responding to a reporter who noted Bird’s app shows the scooters, which arrived quietly in late June, are heavily concentrated in the Inner Harbor and downtown area, Pourciau assured, “you’ll be seeing them all over the city.”

There’s still hope for a shared transit system in Baltimore with both dockless and dock-based options, officials noted. Jon Laria, chair of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Commission, said the city can “return to the question of docked programs when we have a good option to do that as well.”

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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