The two bike models available in the Rockaways' dockless bike-share program // Photo courtesy of NYCDOT

Rockaway Locked In to Dockless Bike-Share Program

By Jonathan Sperling

New York City’s first dockless bike-share program rolled out in Far Rockaway Friday and Mayor Bill de Blasio was at the boardwalk to spin the story.

“There is no more fitting place in New York City to roll out our dockless bikes than the Rockaways,” de Blasio said at a press conference to kick off the program. “Residents and visitors alike will now find the Rockaways’ world class beaches, restaurants and other attractions more accessible than ever.”

The dockless bike-share program allows riders to rent bicycles and ride them along Rockaway peninsula, miles away from the nearest Citi Bike dock. The pilot program, which will next launch in Coney Island, the central Bronx and the North Shore of Staten Island enables communities outside the Citi Bike service area to access temporary cycles.

The Rockaways initiative will feature bicycles from two companies, Pace and Lime. Pace began offering 50 regular bikes on Friday and will add an additional 150 bikes over the next week. Lime introduced 100 regular bicycles on Friday and said it plans to add 100 pedal-assisted electric bikes after July 28, when a new city law makes pedal-assisted e-bikes legal.

Riders can use mobile apps to rent either company’s regular dockless bike at a price of $1 per 30-minute ride. Lime’s pedal-assist bikes will cost customers $1 to unlock and then $0.15 per minute afterward.

Once riders finish their trip, they must leave the bikes locked in safe and accessible locations, such as designated bike racks or along sidewalks. The City urges riders not to leave bikes in the middle of the street or on the boardwalk.

In September, the Department of Transportation will assess the program’s popularity and usage statistics to determine whether to continue offering the dockless bikes. Local lawmakers, however, said they expect the program to succeed in the beachfront community.

“Bringing New York City’s first-ever dockless bicycles pilot program to the Rockaways will have a major positive impact on the entire peninsula,” State Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said. “By giving people the option to rent bicycles, DOT has made an effort to allow people a great way to access the Rockaways and for individuals to further enjoy what the peninsula has to offer, while also getting more cars off the road.”

After some false starts when it was introduced in 2013, Citi Bike has become a citywide success. Citi Bike achieved a record 80,000 trips in a single day in June. According to the company Motivate, which operates Citi Bike, the program has recorded more than 60 million rides and boasts an annual membership of 145,000 cyclists.

Each of the other three pilot communities will receive a minimum of 200 bikes, including pedal-assist models, later this summer. None of the neighborhoods are served by the Citi Bike program, but Motivate will supply some of the dockless bikes.

In June, Motivate was purchased by the ride-hailing company Lyft for a price reportedly reaching $250 million. JUMP, another bike-share supplier, is owned by Uber.

The involvement of Uber and Lyft, the region’s two ride-hailing giants, signals that bike-sharing could become big business and the next phase in app-based transportation.

Though many lawmakers and community residents have hailed the Rockaway initiative, others say they worry people will steal the bikes and spoil the rollout of future programs.

“People are just not fully aware of the limitations of such a program,” Sam Travis, the owner of the Far Rockaway bike shop Cadence Cycling Center told the Queens Daily Eagle earlier this month. “From an eco-friendly perspective it is all well and good, but what are the ramifications if the bikes get stolen and trashed? Unfortunately, that will be detrimental to the program in the long run.”

Travis said that city officials did not include local bike shops during the planning or implementation phase. The DOT did, however, visit all affected community boards, including Community Board 14 in Far Rockaway

“As part of this consultation process, DOT expanded the Rockaways pilot area, which now includes the entire peninsula,” DOT said in a statement. “DOT also adjusted its plans for Coney Island, where strong community concerns about current construction projects and summer crowding led to a postponement of the pilot there until later this year.”

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