Dockless bikes and hepatitis

They put them in the furniture zone

LimeBike in Imperial Beach
  • LimeBike in Imperial Beach

Representatives from three of the dockless bikeshare companies attended an East Village Association meeting at the San Diego Central Library on March 8. Dockless bikes are a relatively new experiment in San Diego, but their arrival certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. The meeting was split between voices supporting the new platform as a way to help San Diego further adopt alternative modes of transportation, and citizens upset with the sudden deluge of bikes throughout the city—an arrival amplified by the fact that three of the bikeshares apparently launched within days of one-another in San Diego.

The primary complaint seemed to be that there were no clear guidelines as to where the bikes should be left when a rider had completed his or her trip. A couple of those in attendance seemed unhappy with the image of the scattered bikes on the sidewalks, when compared with the uniform appearance of the Discover bikes which are locked in specific docking stations.

Out of the three companies in attendance, Bird, who rent out motorized black and white scooters, seemed the most in-sync with the issues the community voiced. Every single night the scooters are picked-up, charged, cleaned, and then redistributed around the neighborhoods from 5-7AM. “We generally contact all the business owners that we can possibly find, and then we ask if we can place Birds on their property. The most ideal location is kind of a nook in a building cut-out. On the sidewalk, but not ‘in the sidewalk.’ We place them in groups of three with the handlebars turned to the left so that it is a neat presentation. Of course, it doesn’t happen all the time, but I do have a team of people that travel around the city, and they sweep the area and make sure everything looks good.

If a drop doesn’t look nice, we have them readjust,” said the Bird representative. Bird has between 500-550 scooters in San Diego. 350 of those are generally located downtown. The general manager from ofo would not give a specific number for how many bikes they have in San Diego, but they are bright yellow and hard to avoid. Ofo is the largest and oldest bikeshare company, and, according to their local general manager, their very existence can be credited to a thief. “Our founder was a student, and he had five of his bikes stolen when he was living on campus. He thought, ‘wouldn’t it be easier if we had shareable bikes so that people wouldn’t have to worry about these kind of things,” she said.

Ofo is in over 20 different countries, and 1200 cities around the world. Locally, ofo bikes are on the streets 24-7. Unless they are broken, they are in circulation. Ofo claims that their bikes are meant to be kept in the “furniture zone” on sidewalks—if you are scratching your head (as I was) the furniture zone is the area of a sidewalk in which you generally see landscaping, light poles or benches.

The last representatives to speak were those with LimeBike. Their bikes can be easily identified by their lime green exteriors. They have several thousand units across the city, including e-bikes, scooters and regular three and five-speed bikes. So, if you combine Bird and LimeBike’s reported units (2500) and then go with a low-ball estimate for how many additional bikes ofo and (not present at the meeting) Mobike are responsible for (say 1500 combined) that’s an additional 4000 bikes and scooters on our sidewalk “furniture zones,” 3500 of which remain there 24/7.

As a result, issues such as business owners dealing with bikes blocking their entranceways are sure to pop up. “Your bikes just line up in the back of our kitchen door,” one frustrated business-owner explained to the LimeBike representative. “So we called your company to kindly ask you to relocate them, and they were like ‘There’s nothing we can do.’” The LimeBike representative then offered his personal number and email so they could contact him directly. The obvious issue here is that his personal number and personal email aren’t on every LimeBike.

As the meeting progressed it was eventually revealed that San Diego has no cap as to how many dockless bikes these companies can operate in San Diego. An attendee had this to say: “My concern is the growth of it. I’m sure there are going to be four or five new companies. They’re all going to race in. It takes no longer than ten seconds to get a business license. That’s not a challenge. So, with no regulation, it’s market saturation. Again, I think it’s a great idea. It’s a great system, but I think there’s going to be a major hurdle before it reaches a point of working and being efficient, and companies surviving—the one’s being responsible and so forth.

"Same thing has happened downtown in businesses for over 20 years. I remember when the pedicabs first started. Everyone saturated. Everyone ran out and bought a pedicab and eventually the city had to go back in and get the licenses out and educate the people…the drivers and so forth. This is going to be one of those situations.”

Another aspect that became very clear is that even though most of the bikeshares have plenty of their rides all over town, their actual workforces in San Diego seem pretty sparse. Many of the discussions seemed to revisit the general theme that getting a human employee to respond to a complaint, move a bike, or to even just answer a question were all time-consuming and often fruitless endeavors. Like many app-based transportation innovations (see: Uber/Lyft) customer service seems a tad lacking in the employee to customer ratio.

It was an East Village meeting, so the issue of the homeless and their access to the bikes was to be expected. An attendee asked how often the bikes were washed after he claimed that he saw a homeless person near Horton Plaza go to the bathroom on one of the bikes earlier in the day. Heavy use and contact with the bikes by the area homeless population is sure to make some potential riders uneasy after the recent Hepatitis A outbreak. A whopping 81 cases of Hepatitis A were reported in the 92101 zip-code according to an October 2017 map. Keeping the bikes sanitary, and also available for all the citizens to use, will likely be a tricky balancing act in San Diego. Easy access to these bikes is obviously a positive move by the city in an attempt to motivate citizens to use alternative modes of transportation. That being said, the dockless bikeshare launch seems to have consisted of one step—notifying all these companies that they are free to unload as many of their rides on the sidewalks of San Diego as they wish. The kinks are quickly becoming apparent, hopefully all parties work them out to keep a noble concept from becoming a daily headache.

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More from SDReader


Thanks for this — I've been spotting bikes at the entrance to hiking paths, out in the middle of the sidewalk, and even a cluster of them in front of a local bike shop (which just seems disrespectful). While I I think they're less intrusive than those awful docks, A) Why do we need both? and B) how is this not simply bike pollution?

I think another casualty might become the traditional bike docks that are meant for privately-owned bikes. Coincidentally, I rode my own bike down to this meeting and went to lock my bike up at a dock near the stadium that was no longer there. The removal of that dock was likely unrelated to the dockless bike invasion, but it's undeniable that both entities are now competing for the same sidewalk "furniture zone" space. If the dockless companies have some political pull, they may angle to remove a lot of the traditional bike docks around the city. Less available options for locking privately-owned bikes translates to more people riding bikes that don't need to be locked up. If you see future laws mandating that privately-owned bikes are only allowed to be locked in specific lots or areas downtown you will really know that the fix is in.

As for your questions:

A) We don't need both right now, but having both available isn't awful by any means. It's just that we have way too many of the newest option. Also, the Discover Bikes option should probably just be discontinued at this point. In the realm of bikeshares, the dockless option just seems like a better all around deal for the customer.

B) Due to the amount of bikes sitting stationary on sidewalks (often for days at a time) "bike pollution" is actually an apt description.

And speaking of hiking paths, I ride my mountain bike in Florida Canyon, and have observed a LimeBike in the same spot off a hiking trail on the east side of the canyon for a week or so now. It may be being utilized daily by someone who camps nearby though. I don't think they're designed for bombing rocky singletrack though. That could be a fun experiment for a future article though...

Oh yeah, I snapped this one two weeks ago. Furniture zone?

Now there are orange dockless bikes, too! Will purple or blue ones be next?

Amazing how some idiots have it backwards . . . you meant car pollution ? Jabba-the-hut Americans like you are the only ones who use cars more than bikes . . .like fat pigs like you, America consumes 1/3 of the world's resources & produces 1/2 the waste & 70% of the pollution . .

Fortunately, planes leave every day, so you don't have to put up with us. Go!

How do you even stand yourself? I mean, really, the crushing guilt that you must feel every single day must be more than one person can bear.

I wouldn't know, as I refuse to feel guilty abut anything I consume. If I can pay for it, then it's mine. I have several vehicles and even more bikes, but mine aren't cheap layabout bikes like these pieces of Chinese dung.

Perhaps a trip for you south of the border where more people are poor would be more in line with your kind of thinking, if you can call it thinking.

“Your bikes just line up in the back of our kitchen door,” one frustrated business-owner explained to the LimeBike representative. “So we called your company to kindly ask you to relocate them, and they were like ‘There’s nothing we can do.’”

Start pitching them into the nearest Dumpster. Suddenly, they'll find that there is something they can do after all.

I visited a friends bike shop in San Diego and he told me about moving a dockless bike from blocking his entrance. He moved about 5 feet when a voice came from the bike saying "put me down as the police are coming"

He told me the police would not come even if he reported a stolen lol..

Do the police even come anymore if your car is stolen?

I just picked up an ofo (yellow bikes) outside of my place, moved it ten feet, and it didn't talk back to me. So it looks as if the ofo's aren't going to give you any sass when you try to move them.

I like how the bike you mentioned informs the mover that the police are coming as opposed to a representative from the bikeshare company. This is probably because (in many instances) their nearest bikeshare employee is in another state or country. Perhaps the city could spearhead a jobs program by encouraging citizens to spend their free time moving these bikes around without riding them. Then maybe some bikeshare security task-force jobs could be created by the bikeshare companies to try to deter the citizens from doing this. One gets the feeling that the local police aren't going to respond to an emergency five foot bike relocation.

Both the Yellow and Lime Dockless bikes were being transported on the Coaster to Encinitas by the homeless

only possible if somebody is paying for the bike

People have figured out how to snap-off bike locking system and away they go!

I saw a homeless guy yesterday sleeping outside North Park CVS, with his yellow bike holding all his possessions. I doubt it he paid to use it.

I think the bikes are eyesores, and I don't think a company should be able to base its business on storing inventory on public property (except for alternative newspapers, of course). That said, these companies seem to provide a useful service that docked bikes didn't seem to (based on what I've seen - maybe the gray docked bikes are just less noticeable).

I think a starting point would be requiring a permit on each bike (as newspaper boxes have to have). Set a reasonable cap on the number of permits to allow for new competitors to enter the market - or if enough competition exists, hold an auction for permits every few years. As part of the permitting process, companies would have to demonstrate the ability to effectively respond to complaints.

That's a pretty good idea Bee Thousand. Currently, the entire industry kind of feels like a game of pricks.

They're all over, about every other block in parts of residential Kensington/Normal Heights today. Anybody wanna play bike tipping? They do it to cows for fun in the Midwest. Better that these are non-living, mostly yellow for no reasonable purpose, plenty of legit local bike businesses on Adams Ave. Ridiculous eyesore and probably not permitted so...

On second thought, I was at Mission Valley FFL recycle this afternoon (weight machine is on the fritz and unavailable awaiting repair). Thing is some yellow ono? bikes in use. 1$ per hour.

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

This picture in this story shows a bike next to the harbor. Three seconds and that lime bike could be underwater. Then it can scream "I'm calling the police" all it wants while it rusts.

And I do advocate trashing them because they have no contract with the city to be occupying public spaces. They are visual blight and just like cleaning up after your dog, they should be picked up and thrown away.

Those bright yellow, green and orange colors might make the fish go blind, and then we're talking lawsuits!

We saw the same article in The Atlantic, but you beat me to it.

Given how many millions of abandoned bikes appear in those photos, I would imagine it'd be less expensive in the long run to just give them away.

OMG! The other abandoned-bike photos are amazing. Mind-boggling!

OFO (all yellow) bikes are now in El Cajon. I see some that are broken down in one way or another. Many are left in random places, often intruding into pedestrian areas. The worst issue I see though is wankers riding them carelessly (and recklessly) on sidewalks! Hey! The law clearly states that bicycles are NOT to be ridden upon a sidewalk! It's especially maddening when these jerks go whizzing past from behind with no warning and seemingly try to gets as close to a pedestrian as they can without actually running into someone. Seriously? There appears to be something wrong with the brain function of these clowns... Do the El Cajon police care? It would seem not, because I've witnessed bicycle riders many times merrily zipping along, darting out into the street and police cars rolling by without so much as glance. Is it troublesome to stop and write a ticket? A non enforcement policy? The police rk down on pedestrians jaywalking, so why not bicyclists illegally riding on a sidewalk?


by R G

These bikes are showing up for sale at the street markets here in Tijuana. Using the apps you can find them all over town. Obviously stolen from San Diego.

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