As the lime green and yellow bicycles that dot streets in White Plains and Yonkers attest, bike sharing in Westchester County shifted into high gear quickly.
The county entered 2018 with a grand total of zero bicycles available through organized share programs. By June, there were more than 1,000 total bikes spread across separate programs in Yonkers, White Plains and New Rochelle.
First was New Rochelle, which partnered with P3 Global Management to launch Westchester’s first bike-share program in May. New Rochelle’s is a docked bike share program, similar to Citi Bike in New York City. Two weeks later, Yonkers launched a “dockless” program, a model that White Plains followed in its launch at the beginning of June.
Elected officials in all three cities have praised the programs as ways to help make their communities more environmentally sustainable and healthy, while improving access to downtown shops and train stations.
The dockless bike-share programs engaged by Yonkers and White Plains allow users to pick up a bicycle wherever it is closest and drop it off in a safe spot at their destination, without having to find a designated bike rack.
Two of the country’s biggest operators have launched in Westchester. Lime, which runs the program in Yonkers and is one of two operators in White Plains, was founded last year in Silicon Valley and already is in more than 60 markets. The other White Plains operator, ofo, started in Beijing in 2014 and describes itself as the first and largest provider of dockless bike sharing in the world. The company operates in more than 200 cities worldwide.
“The key to dockless is that it’s a solution to the first and last mile,” said Anna Wan Christie, general manager for ofo’s New York region. “When you’re looking for a bike, you don’t necessarily want to walk several blocks to find and drop off that bike. Dockless allows you to pick up a bike anywhere and drop it off where you want to go.”
The bikes are equipped with GPS and unlocked with an app, with rides for both companies starting at $1. Once a trip is complete, the rider places the bike in an area that doesn’t block traffic, pulls its lock down and ends their ride on the app.
The programs don’t require any upfront investment from the cities, as the bikes and systems are maintained by the companies. Both White Plains and Yonkers have access to ridership data from the companies that it can consider when developing its bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
The early results have been promising. Lime announced last week that the company’s bikes reached 30,000 trips within its first month operating in Yonkers, with residents and visitors now averaging
1,000 trips per day.
“What we’ve seen is that in Yonkers, you don’t have a ton of alternative transportation options,” said Gil Kazimirov, Lime’s New York general manager. “If you don’t have a car, it can be tricky to get around. People have really taken this up because they see it for what it is, which is a cheap way to get around.”
The results have helped answer concerns Kazimirov said he heard early on about the city’s bike-share market.
“For Yonkers, the terrain is super hilly, right? People said no one is going to ride them,” Kazimirov. “Or, they said that everyone who wants to ride a bike already owns a bike. Both those things turned out not to be true.”
Meanwhile, in White Plains, popularity has surged around the city’s train station.
“People have loved taking the bikes from the outer ring of the city into the train station,” Kazimirov said. “It’s just too short for a car ride, but too long to walk. So it’s that perfect in-between.”
That tracks with what ofo has found as well.
“The train station and downtown area has been a really popular corridor,” Christie said. While White Plains overall may not have the same density as markets such as San Diego and Seattle, “the ridership has been really good on a number of bikes,” Christie added.
The key for both companies is making sure bikes are left in places that people will use them, ideally train stations and around downtown.
Using the GPS data, ofo and Lime technicians can track the most popular areas and make sure bikes that reach far-flung locales are repositioned daily to more useful locations.
“We can see both where the bikes are constantly out-flowing, and where we need to pick bikes back up,” Christie said.
Both companies also have warning systems designed to deter people from leaving bicycles outside of the company’s operating zone.
Meanwhile, the future of dockless transportation is already moving beyond pedal bikes to include a mix of other transportation modes, such as electric scooters and electric bikes. In May, Lime dropped the bike from its initial “LimeBike” name.
“Lime started with pedal bikes, but the vision has always been much bigger than that,” Kazimirov said. “The idea is to deploy a system of mobility devices, however you find them. Our approach is, let’s give people a really easy way to get around their cities. One that’s cheap and that’s convenient.”