By Alex Scoville
The latest evolution of bike-share programs is taking its first Colorado foothold in Aurora.
The city launched a bike-share permit program Oct. 2 that has already attracted two companies -- Ofo and LimeBike -- and the city is open to adding other providers, urban planner Brenden Paradies said.
Paradies and others began serious conversations about bringing a bike-share program to Aurora about a year ago. City leaders wanted a program that was easy to access, affordable and could expand use of the R line and the trails system.
"We wanted to have this program in order to provide additional mobility and accessibility to our residents," and to benefit them physically and financially, Paradies said.
Instead of focusing on a traditional, docked program like Denver's BCycle, where you pick up a bike at a station and return it there or to another station, Aurora sought interest from bike-share companies with dockless programs.
The dockless model eliminates bike stations. Instead, users download an app that shows the location of each bike in the system, based on the bikes' GPS-equipped "smart" locks. After hopping on the nearest bicycle, a user can ride it wherever they're going and park it in a legal spot. Both Ofo and LimeBike have teams that maintain the bicycles and ensure they're appropriately distributed around targeted areas.
Paradies and others believe a dockless bike-share program helps solve the "First-Mile/Last-Mile" problem in public transit -- making it easier for people to use public transportation by providing bikes to get to and from their home or work or school and the nearest bus or light-rail stop.
"We really see the potential for dockless bike-share as a democratizing force," Ofo spokesman Jake Conway said. "We want to service areas that normally aren't serviced" otherwise.
Ofo is a Beijing-based company with bicycle fleets in 180 cities in 15 countries. LimeBike operates in 20 markets across the United States. A ride with LimeBike costs $1 per 30-minute trip. Ofo charges $1 per hour. Both programs offer students a 50-percent discount. A user's time begins when a bike is unlocked and ends when a bike is locked up again.
"By eliminating the docking station and boosting access, it makes bikes a lot more affordable than traditional bike-sharing models," LimeBike spokeswoman Mary Caroline Pruitt said.
LimeBike kicked off in Aurora with 250 bikes and expects to bring thousands more to town as demand increases, Pruitt said. She says the beauty of a bike-share system is how it complements everyone's lifestyle, whether someone uses public transportation all the time or just wants to leave their car at home for an occasional ride around town.
Docked bike-share programs generally operate as subsidized private-public partnerships, while dockless programs generally are private businesses, Paradies said. The dockless option appealed to Aurora officials, he said.
"It's a little bit more low risk because we're not subsidizing, they're operating on their own terms," Paradies said.
Still, Aurora officials are working with Ofo and LimeBike to ensure that neighborhoods with the greatest transportation needs are served and bikes are stationed near light rail stations to help commuters.
Aurora also required the bike share companies to outline how they will run outreach programs to help educate the public on biking and using the systems.
"Because this is such a new concept, not only for Aurora but the country, a lot of people are curious," Paradies said. "'How do I use these bikes?' 'Where do I find them?' 'What do they cost?'"
Tom Tobiassen, president and founder of the Bicycle Aurora advocacy group, said the group will collaborate with the companies to introduce locals to bike sharing and safe cycling: where to find the bikes, how to download the app, how to safely ride around town.
Bicycle Aurora has been working since 1998 to transform Aurora into a more bike-friendly city. The agreements with Ofo and LimeBike are in many ways the culmination of those efforts, Tobiassen said, particularly the adoption of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan in 2012. That plan set the standards for bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure.
Currently, the bike-share programs do not extend to the Anschutz Medical Campus. Ofo, LimeBike and any other bike-share company that wants to operate on campus first must obtain an additional permit from the school. Aurora has told campus officials to expect applications, Paradies said.
Tobiassen believes millennials' rejuvenated interest in bicycling will help support the program. And once springtime rolls around, he's sure use will grow -- and attract the curiosity of Aurora's neighbors.
"Once people see it in Aurora they're gonna say, 'Why don't we have that?'" Tobiassen said.
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