Two competing bike-share programs bring their services to Durham next week, flooding the city with hundreds of bicycles for public use.
Both Spin and LimeBike will launch 300 bikes each throughout the city starting Monday, Nov. 27 – a number that could quickly rise to 2,500 bikes each under the city’s recently approved bike-share ordinance.
The two dockless bike-share programs, which allow users to rent bikes for 30-minute increments via a smartphone, have grown in popularity over the past year in the U.S.
Durham was one of the last big cities in North Carolina without some form of bike share, as LimeBike had already launched on the campuses of N.C. State and UNC Greensboro, and both Spin and LimeBike began putting bikes in Charlotte last month. UNC-Chapel Hill launched its own program last month.
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Unlike some programs in larger cities – like Citi Bike in New York City or Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. – Spin and LimeBike do not have permanent docking stations where customers must pick up or leave a bicycle.
Rather, a Spin or a LimeBike can be left or picked up anywhere. The bikes use GPS technology, so users can find available bikes through maps on their respective apps. Customers can only unlock a bike through the app.
Both Spin and LimeBike typically cost $1 for 30 minutes of riding, however prices for first-time users and students are discounted. LimeBike is offering fare-free rides for a customer’s first five trips.
Dockless bike-share programs, which were first popularized in China, have multiplied across the U.S. this year, as investors have poured millions into several burgeoning startups such as LimeBike and Spin.
The dockless concept is much cheaper than installing multiple docking stations, which has encouraged bike-sharing startups in markets across the U.S. LimeBike is now available in 30 markets and Spin is in nine.
Bryan Poole, a bicycle and pedestrian planner for Durham, said the two services will be a great opportunity to test demand and route data at zero cost to the city. The success of the two programs will also determine whether the city creates its own dock-based program, something it has been considering, Poole added.
A dock-based program that Raleigh is planning will reportedly cost $1.65 million to deploy 300 bikes at 30 stations.
“We get to test where the demand is and where people are riding at no cost to tax payers,” Poole said. “If changes need to be made, we are ready to respond. ... We know there will be growing pains, but we believe it will be a key mobility option for people getting off the bus that need to go that last mile. And for parking downtown, (residents) could park a little farther away and use a bike to do that last half mile.”
Brooks Buffington, San Francisco-based Spin’s head of market operations, said Spin began talking with city officials several months ago and has previously put its bikes on campuses such as Furman University in Greenville, S.C.
“We are really targeting places like Durham and Duke University,” Buffington said. “Even though it’s not the biggest city in the world, it has a great sense of community and density of people.”
Buffington said the company is using a warehouse in south Durham to house its local operations, which so far employ nine local workers. That number could expand, as the company introduces more bikes to the city, he added.
A spokesperson for LimeBike said the company would also be hiring a local team to run its Durham operations.
Both companies’ local employees will be tasked with removing and repairing broken bikes and relocating bikes that have been moved from low-traffic areas. The city is asking both companies to place 20 percent of their bikes in Northeast Central and East Durham to ensure the bikes are available outside of downtown and Duke, Poole said.
Bikes in trees
The employees will also monitor the bikes’ GPS locations to prevent potential theft or vandalism. In Raleigh, for example, LimeBike’s bikes have been discarded in trees and even at the bottom of a dam.
Spin said it hasn’t had any major issues with theft in its markets.
“We will work with (the Durham Police Department) if it were to become an issue,” Buffington said in a statement. “We’re excited to launch this technology in Durham, but it will be a community effort to ensure that bikes are being used and returned responsibly. Our bikes have GPS on them so we always know where they are and who last used them.”
Poole admitted that it might take a little bit for residents to get used to the fact these bikes can be left anywhere.
“It’s a concern of ours and a concern of Duke’s, and really it’s one of the main issues when you hear about these being launched,” Poole said. “We are working proactively with the companies, letting them know where we would prefer the bikes to be placed, especially in downtown and on Ninth Street where there is not a lot of sidewalk space.”
The city will debut the two services in CCB Plaza at 11 a.m. on Monday. For users without a smartphone or a credit card, access cards will be available for purchase at Durham City Hall and the Durham Station Transportation Center.