Dockless bike-sharing is surging in Charlotte, and it turns out people use them

Dockless bike-sharing is surging in Charlotte, and it turns out people use them

CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - Uptown Charlotte is covered with green, orange and red bikes. Is anyone riding them?

The answer is yes, according to detailed city data on four bike-share companies that deployed hundreds of bikes to the center city.

As part of a permit agreement with the city, the bike-share companies must submit data on weekly riders; the time and length of each trip; and the number of complaints received.

In November, when only two companies were in Charlotte – LimeBike and Spin – 5,289 rides were taken. At the end of that month, there were 637 bikes in circulation.

In January, two new companies entered the market – Ofo and Mobike, both from China. There were 18,929 rides taken on 1,717 bikes.

But the glut of bikes means more are sitting still. Or lying on the ground, as is sometimes the case.

In November, the average bike by all companies was used 0.72 trips were day. In January, that fell to 0.36 trips per day.

LimeBike said the daily use of its bikes has increased.

"Charlotte has been very successful for us," said Sidney McLaurin Jr., a a LimeBike regional general manager.

He said LimeBike started last year assuming that uptown and South End would be good markets.

"We thought an area that would be OK but has been great has been near transit stops," he said. "Transit has been really good for us."

Derrick Ko, Spin's co-founder, said in an email that Spin's bike utilization is nearing two rides per bike per day. He said Charlotte is "extremely lucrative."

All four companies say they are designed to solve what's known as a "first mile/last mile" problem with transit. When people get off a bus or train, they often have another mile or two to finish their journey. Paying $1 to use a bike for 30 minutes is designed to finish or start the trip easily.

The four companies are known as dockless or free-floating. The bikes are equipped with GPS and can be left anywhere. Users unlock the bikes with a smartphone app.

LimeBike, Spin, Ofo and Mobike are different than B-Cycle, the city's original bike-share program started in 2012 that's managed by Center City Partners. B-Cycle's bikes must be parked at designated racks.

The city doesn't have data on B-Cycle. Ridership data for B-Cycle wasn't available from Center City Partners Thursday.

Here is some other data on the companies:

  • The bikes were ridden 17,118 miles in January. That’s an average trip of 1.08 miles.
  • The average trip was 12 minutes in January, up up from 6 minutes in December.
  • In January, the companies said 14 bikes were vandalized. Another 197 bikes were repaired after being damaged.
  • First-time users were 4,618 of the total rides in January.

Few people have made the bikes as part of their daily routine. There were 261 trips taken by people who have ridden them more than 31 times.

  • The city and the companies received 334 complaints about the bikes in January: 35 were about the bikes blocking the sidewalk and 61 about them being left on private property.

For now, the city's permits limit each company to 500 bikes. That means that unless another company enters the market, the number of dockless bikes should be stable.