Two companies have launched bike-sharing in the city of St. Louis, an experiment that is sure to be watched by metro-east officials who are considering it for their cities.
LimeBike and ofo will gradually build up fleets in St. Louis, according to Deanna Venker, city traffic commissioner.
"They're each allowed to have an initial 750 bicycles, and each month, they can add 350 each, capping at 2,500, and that's all within the permit," she said.
Bike-sharing is different from traditional rental, which involves picking up a bicycle at a shop, paying to keep it for a day or half a day and returning it to the same location before closing time.
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Citywide bike-sharing services make the process more convenient and affordable. Bicycles are parked at docking stations or in parking spaces, park plazas or other public places.
LimeBike and ofo have the second type of system, which is called “dockless.” A person uses a smartphone app to find an available bicycle and unlocks it by scanning a QR code.
"You can ride it wherever you'd like," said Jordan Levine, an ofo spokesman based in New York City. "But when you stop, you have to park it in an appropriate place, based on regulations developed by the city of St. Louis."
Those regulations even allow bicycles to be parked along sidewalks, as long as pedestrians have clear 5-foot-wide paths.
Ofo is a Chinese company whose bicycles are yellow. It has fleets in more than 30 locations across North America, including cities such as Dallas and Seattle and college campuses such as Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
The name ofo isn't an acronym. It's in all lowercase letters because company founders wanted the logo to look like a person riding a bicycle.
"We believe we have very strong products," Levine said. "Our bikes are well-built and safe, and we are very proud to offer the most affordable service. It's just $1 an hour."
California-based LimeBike has lime-green bicycles, as the name implies, with fleets in more than 50 locations across North America.
LimeBike representatives couldn't be reached for comment Monday. In February, Director of Strategic Development Sam Sadle said the St. Louis rental price would be $1 a half hour (50 cents for students).
"We'd also love to serve communities in St. Clair County," he said at the time.
LimeBike representatives talked to officials in Edwardsville, Collinsville, Alton, Glen Carbon, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Madison County Transit and asked them to consider allowing the company to bring in fleets.
Edwardsville City Council has directed staff to review "memorandums of understanding" that LimeBike has with other municipalities to determine what guidelines and regulations would be appropriate.
"We want to be specific about where bikes can and can't be parked," said alderman S.J. Morrison. "We don't want bikes to be blocking sidewalks and creating (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues."
Nothing has been decided in Edwardsville, he said, but support seems high for the concept of bike-sharing.
St. Louis officials see bike-sharing as a way to give residents and visitors more transportation options and possibly even increase use of Metro buses and trains because people could ride bicycles to stops and stations.
"This is of no cost to the city, which made it very appealing," Venker said.
Bike-sharing has proved popular in cities all over the world, partly because it's convenient and affordable and partly because it's environmentally friendly.
But that doesn't mean it's trouble-free. Some cities have reported problems with bicycles being left in inappropriate places, causing clutter and even safety issues.
The St. Louis permit requires each bike-sharing company to employ a minimum of six people to organize, maintain and periodically balance their bicycles in the city.
"We're really trying to get more people to use bikes as an alternative means of transportation," Levine said.