Bike Share Comes to St. Louis

How can you not be a proponent of biking and walking? The environmental, physical and mental health benefits are indisputable. Aiming to be a better and more vibrant urban place...it all makes sense in St. Louis.

So with the news of bike share coming to our town, we were thrilled.

Some of the best family vacation memories are using bike share in places like Chicago, Columbus and Washington D.C. It is a great way to get around cheaply and it's a lot of fun as a tourist.

An aside, D.C. is one of the most bike friendly big cities I've visited.

So again, thrilled St. Louis is jumping into the modern era and becoming the 46th American city to offer bike share.

Here's what I learned on our maiden dockless voyage.

First, two separate companies have permits to do business in St. Louis, LimeBike and ofo. Neither company currently have deals with the many small towns in the suburbs. Alton is the only other city in the region with their own negotiations to sign up. Another reason St. Louis is the best city in the region. I imagine a wall of cranky hipsters not quite ready for city living on the Maplewood/St. Louis border giving us the stink eye.

For now, bike share is only a St. Louis program, but you can leave the bikes in neighboring cities. I'm not sure how they will get them back to STL if people start leaving them in the burbs.

This program is unique to our previous experiences with bike share as these are dockless. You can pick them up and drop them off anywhere. The more I think about, the more brilliant this model becomes. So far LimeBike is the only one to place bikes as of publishing, ofo should be here in no time. LimeBike is a U.S. company, ofo is Chinese. Hopefully Trump is not considering tariffs on these cute yellow bikes:

 Image Source - ofo.com

Image Source - ofo.com

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For now, it's the lemon/lime bikes and they are all over the place. I'll update this post when ofo comes to town. For now, each company is supposed to place 750 bikes each for total of 1,500 in St. Louis. That is a lot of bikes! The app shows them everywhere in my neck of the woods and the fun places like Downtown, the Grove, South Grand, Forest Park, the Riverfront, etc are dotted with them. 

***update May 21, 2018***

ofo bikes are now available. The app is similar very similar.

I hope the scrap metal buyers don't buy these from the haterz and thieves, because you know they are coming for them. I hope I'm wrong, but I know how these guys roll.

I set off to find a bike nearest to my home. 

The app is super easy to use, it's completely intuitive and elegant. The more I think about the dockless concept, the more I like it. You are limited in other cities in where you can drop them off and if you are a tourist it's hard to know where the docks are. It's democratic and fair as well. The people and areas who want these bikes will have access to them. They will be where they are needed or used. Finally, the city is not on the hook for the cost associated with the docks and the ticketing infrastructure. Brilliant. There are GPS chips in each bike.

In fact, while I'm on the topic of the city....I have to give some love to the folks who brokered this deal. It was a full win for the city. The companies have a contract that allows them to do biz here. The contract is impressive with an equity lens in full focus. A first for the city, maybe...whoever is responsible for the following outcomes get a gold star:

  • no spend for the city
  • geofencing can be used if this gets out of hand and people park them where they are blocking things or people or become a problem for property owners
  • 20% have to be in lower income areas both north and south and within 3 miles of a Metrolink station
  • Companies are required to offer payment options for those without credit cards or phones

Way to go STL!

The bikes are super cheap to rent, LimeBike is $1/30 min and ofo is $1/hr. The data from the companies indicated most rides are well under an hour hence the pricing.

The nearest bike was in my neighborhood at a Lona's Lil Eats, but it was not available (someone else had it).

 Someone rode a bike to the neighborhood restaurant

Someone rode a bike to the neighborhood restaurant

The next closest was in Compton Reservoir Park, so we walked the dogs over there to find the bike.

It was exactly where it was supposed to be.

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Funny think is when I got home I was emoting about being the first to ride and my daughter who gets out of school 2 hours before I get home went to a friends house in Compton Heights and rented this exact bike (and another) and rode to South Grand with a friend for a snack. They returned the bikes here.

So this is getting use.

The bike itself is impressive. They have sturdy kick stands. The seats are adjustable. There is a basket, that would easily hold two twelve packs of ice cold Busch beer if you're that kind of hoosier. There are fenders to keep the rain off your back! They are built solid and have 3 gears. The tires are perfect for the street, jumping curbs or the trail. They are super recognizable with the lemon/lime color scheme. The left handlebar grip has a ding-ding style bell and the right has the gear shifter. There is a phone holder on the handlebars (note the photo with 4:20 pm, 4/20 on a green bike was COMPLETELY incidental).

We tried to use the QR scanner but it didn't work (likely my old phone) so we typed in the bike code and a little jingle sounds off and the bike it "unlocked" at the rear wheel and good to ride.

It rides as nice as any bike share we've used, and frankly is built better than my personal bike.

I chose to drop the bike off in Fox Park since I have a soft spot for that place and wanted it to be my first drop off point.

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When you're done with your ride you place the bike respectively out of the way for pedestrians and someone in a chair or pushing a stroller, then simply go to the app and lock the bike, swing a little red lever over to lock the bike and walk away.

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The LimeBike app then summarizes your ride with a map, distance traveled, time of your ride, grams of carbon saved by riding vs. driving and calories burned. Brilliant!

The ofo bikes themselves are very similar in quality and design. The bike I chose was a 3 speed and they all have fenders, baskets, adjustable seats and chain guards. It has an easy to scan QR code and the price is listed on the rear fender. They ride very nice.  One downside is that the ofo app did not summarize my ride; this could be due to the fact I was using my "free rides" vs. paying and linking to my account. I presume it will be similar to LimeBike once I pay for a ride.

This is a step change for St. Louis. When we take a clear step forward with no steps backward, it is time for celebration. 

Well done St. Louis.