Guest Column by Kevin Roden
It's an outrageous proposition. A private company descends upon a city, introduces a disruptive transportation option, begins to litter our landscape with its creations, and asks that the city build better infrastructure to accommodate their novel idea.
We're not talking about 150 dockless bike share bikes here.
For well over a century, several private companies have descended on our cities with automobiles and we have been bowing down to their every demand to the tune of billions of dollars of taxpayer money every year to make sure their business model is successful. We're constantly building and expanding roads, requiring seas of parking lots around every business, creating new models for homes to accommodate them, sprawling our cities to ensure they are necessary, all the while making our environment dirtier and our citizens less healthy.
You may or may not be concerned with the significant transformations brought about by the advent of the automobile in the 20th century. But let's at least put the current over-hyped drama surrounding the advent of dockless bike share bikes in this perspective.
Typical bike share programs - those that require docking stations throughout a community - come with a significant public price tag: taxpayer subsidies, dedicated infrastructure in city right-of-ways, and public-private partnership agreements. The dockiess bike share concept seeks to find a way for cities (like Denton) who have yet to invest in the traditional approach, without asking for a single cent from the city. They also seek to overcome a problem for riders by doing away with the need to choose your routes based on preset stations. By all accounts, these companies are in the very early stages of understanding the market, rider preferences, and just what makes this concept work.
Companies like V-bikes offer the city a free bike sharing program at zero cost and, in so doing, help us expand our active transportation goals. In light of this, why is it that we are trying to move so quickly to regulate them?
The city council is scheduled to discuss such regulations this coming Tuesday as part of their Council Work Session. Check out the presentation for that meeting here. In light of all the potential good that these new transportation options could bring for the city, here are the things I would urge the City Council NOT TO DO:
DO NOT LIMIT THEIR NUMBERS
As with any new market trying to understand the demand, don't step in and artificially - without any data to support it - limit the number of share bikes can be in the city. Allow the companies and our citizens time and freedom to learn from usage data and patterns and iterate accordingly. We don't limit any other numbers of transportation options in town, let's not start with bikes - the least impactful option around.
DO NOT LIMIT THE LOCATIONS FOR PARKING
Requiring dedicated parking spots for the bikes defeats the very genius of the dockless bike. I'm more likely to use this sort of options as opposed to the traditional bike share option precisely because my route is not determined by the presence of pre-defined dock locations. Private entities already have significant legal right to remove, re-locate, or dispose of bikes that find their way on their property under existing laws and the companies themselves already have the incentive and ability to find solutions to inappropriately parked bikes.
DO NOT CHARGE THEM A PERMIT FEE
Keep in mind - most cities of any stature have already investing significant dollars in developing their own bike sharing programs. Denton hasn't. So here's a company coming to the table, asking us nothing in return, and trying to fill a void we have yet to fill. So let's charge them for doing it?
Let's not allow the annoyance of a few drive our transportation policy decisions in Denton. If we find that there are bikes parked in inappropriate places, perhaps the response to that should be to consider building more bicycle infrastructure to accommodate an increased demand: more bike parking throughout town, more required bike facilities for new developments, more dedicated bike lanes, etc.
The advent of dockless bike share in Denton provides us with many opportunities. How can we better partner with our university partners to take advantage of this and make getting to and from our university centers easier without a car? How can we partner with DCTA to discover how this new idea can help riders tackle that "last mile" after riding a bus or train? How can Denton ISD take part in this in light of the great problem of school transportation?
Let's take advantage of this opportunity to celebrate and explore the possibilities. Save regulations for another day.