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Austin Transportation Department Shouldn’t Pick Winners and Losers for Bike Sharing Services

Austin consumers will face fewer and more expensive bike-sharing options if a new permit application process proposed by the Austin Transportation Department (ATD) goes into effect.

At the heart of the issue is the Austin city government’s apparent preference for one type of bike sharing model – bikes that lock into fixed docks wherever the city decides to put them.  These docked bikes are only available where docks are located and must be returned to a docking station.

Competition and choice has arrived in Austin, in the form of dockless bike providers that allow riders to pick-up and drop-off their bikes where they please. No docking is required.   Dockless bikes are a convenient alternative to more expensive and hard-to-find docked bikes, and bring bike-sharing to many neighborhoods that aren’t served by docking platforms.

The proposed ATD rules make it nearly impossible for dockless bike providers to run a viable service for city residents.  While that might help the legacy docked bike system, it’s no help to Austin residents in neighborhoods that don’t have a docking station.  Proposed limitations on dockless bikes include:

  • All bikes must be equipped with expensive “haptic technology” to ensure the user has parked the bike in a designated geo-fenced area or must lock to some form of infrastructure.
  • No bike parking allowed on Austin city blocks designated as a “Landscape” or “No Furniture” zone.
  • Bike providers must find a way for customers to use their App – even for customers who don’t have a smartphone.

“If Austin had the choice back when they started their docked bike-sharing system, the city would surely have chosen dockless over docked bikes,” said Steve DelBianco, President of NetChoice.  “The ATD proposal flies in the face of good city planning and customer service. Dockless systems are far less expensive to implement, and serve residents in neighborhoods that are never going to get a docking platform.”

“City managers should focus on offering Austin citizens better choices and convenience, but here Austin regulators are making rules to protect their prior investments in inferior bike sharing systems.”