Austin City Council approves pilot program to test dockless bicycles

Austin is joining the ranks of cities testing out dockless bicycles.

Thursday, City Council approved a pilot program for the bike-share program.

The idea is to have bicycles that can be located and unlocked with a smartphone application.

When a rider gets to their location, the bike can be appropriately placed in any location in the city because it doesn't require a docking station.

“We think it could be a real benefit to solve the first and last mile. Imagine you're at a transit stop and you want to ride to your house, there's no dock where you're headed so you really can't use a B-cycle station based type system, but, if it's dockless, you can ride to your neighborhood and leave the bike appropriately on the street,” said Robert Spillar with the Austin Transportation Department.

However, in cities like Dallas, the bikes sometimes end up cluttering streets, sidewalks, and parks.

That's a concern for the Downtown Austin Alliance. “If we're having problems with where bikes are being left, what is the responsibility of the person renting and using the bike? However, if you're only charging them 50 cents or $1, and you're only charging the $1 as a fine, what's the incentive to put it some place where it might be okay?” asked Molly Alexander, executive vice president of economic development at the Downtown Austin Alliance.

City Councilwoman Ora Houston, District 1, voted to approve the pilot program with some stipulations. “What I don't want to happen is what I have here with B-cycle, which is very little, if any, locations east of I-35,” Houston said.

During the pilot program, city stakeholders will also look into whether safety specifications of dockless bikes are maintained. “What is the quality of the bikes? Do they meet the safety standard? Are they properly lit, or have proper reflectors so that the end user is safe?” said Alexander.

The bikes are tracked by GPS and Austin Transportation has already talked about designating parking for them on streets or near busy attractions, but, ultimately, the deciding factor of whether dockless bikes will become a permanent option in Austin, depends on how the community responds.

Although Council has approved a pilot program to test out the dockless bikes, they won’t be on the street right away. Austin transportation expects the pilot to begin in late Spring.