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Dockless in Dallas

At one point, there were 18,000 rental bikes in Dallas. Now, they’re all gone.

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(AP)
At the height of the dockless bike craze a couple of years ago, the streets of Dallas were filled with 18,000 of the rental bicycles, making that city the center of a fast-growing trend in the United States. The bike rental companies, flush with venture capital money, saw Dallas as a testing ground for a new mobility option. Dallas officials encouraged deployment of the bikes by choosing not to regulate them when they were first introduced. They imposed rules only after residents complained about the proliferation of bikes and all the inconvenient places people were leaving them.

Now, though, the dockless bike services are all gone. Uber, which operates the e-bike service Jump, announced in June it would be leaving Dallas, giving few details about its rationale even as it continued to offer Jump bikes in other places. Uber had been the last dockless bike operator in the city. The company said it would continue to offer scooters for Dallas residents who wanted them. 

The demise of dockless bikes in Dallas is a mixed bag for cycling advocates there. While all the companies eventually withdrew, they demonstrated a pent-up demand for cycling and other alternative forms of mobility and exposed the city’s lack of infrastructure capable of handling new modes of transportation.

One of the legacies of the dockless bike-share programs is a trove of data that can help advocates, city officials and transportation planners better address unmet needs. Before the wave of bikes came, people were using their best guess in recommending where bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure should be installed. But the dockless bikes turned up some unanticipated hot spots, like the busy bar district along McKinney Avenue, where parking can be scarce. Regular cyclists might avoid it for its high automobile traffic and its uneven surfaces, but dockless cyclists were looking for a way to get there and back without driving. 

In any case, scooters are filling at least some of the gaps left by dockless bikes. Cycling advocates believe it’s the scooters—which are cheaper for companies to operate than bikes—that were the biggest factor in pushing out the dockless bikes. “Had scooters not come in, I’m not sure we would have had the same exodus of bikes,” says Heather McNair of Bike DFW, a local cyclist advocacy group.

The brief heyday of dockless bikes may turn out to have been a sign of progress for cyclists in general. Downtown is increasingly seen as a place where people can live and socialize in nonwork hours—and bike to their destinations. “Regardless of the bike-shares,” McNair says, “Dallas is moving in the right direction.” 

Dan is Governing’s transportation and infrastructure reporter.
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