As bike-share’s growing popularity in the United States spurs private investment, cities that have considered starting their own municipal programs are beginning to ask: Why bother trying to round up millions of dollars when a private company will come in and do it for free. Following success in China, private firms in the last few months have deployed masses of brightly colored bikes ready to zip around American cities, pushing their way into a market that until now has been dominated by city-subsidized programs.
Unlike existing publicly financed bike-share programs, with bikes that are docked at stations, the neon green, orange and yellow bikes from competing companies are dockless — picked up and dropped off wherever a user likes. Riders use an app on their phone to find available bikes and unlock them for about $1 a half-hour, a cheaper walk-up price than most existing programs offer. The entrance of dockless biking into the U.S. market has rocked a bike-share sector that has long relied on city workers’ help to assemble federal grants, city funds and advertising and sponsorships in order to lure bike-share operators. But those endeavors may be nearing an end. [pew]