San Marcos, Texas State University partnering to offer dockless bike sharing

Mobike is an example of a dockless bike share company that San Marcos and Texas State University want to be operating in the area. Mobike was recently approved in The Woodlands Town Center.

Mobike is an example of a dockless bike share company that San Marcos and Texas State University want to be operating in the area. Mobike was recently approved in The Woodlands Town Center.

The city of San Marcos and Texas State University will issue a joint request for proposals to get at least one station-free bike sharing company to operate in the area.

During a work session Tuesday, City Council was briefed on the partnership, which would allow the company to operate dockless bikes around the city and on the university campus at no cost to the city or the university.

"This is very important for our community," City Manager Bert Lumbreras said. "We also believe we have a great opportunity with Texas State [University] in terms of a possible partnership."

Dockless bikes utilize GPS and a smart lock system paired with a smartphone app to allow riders to reserve and park bikes at their convenience. As the name suggests, a docking station is not required. Bicycles can be parked at a bike rack, on a sidewalk or in the public right-of-way, typically within a defined area.

In September, San Marcos City Council received a pitch from the dockless bike-share company Spin, which wanted to bring an initial fleet of 150 Schwinn bicycles to the city over the first two weeks of a pilot program and expand to 550 bikes over the first two months. The proposal never went back to the Council for approval. Calls to Spin were not answered on Wednesday.

Other major cities that have piloted dockless bike-share programs include Washington, D.C., Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco.

Dockless bike-share companies operating in the US include Spin, Jump Bikes, Mobke, VBikes, Ofo and LimeBike.

San Marcos Economic Development Administrator Kevin Burke said the dockless bike-share movement has sparked a "global, intense competition" between bike-share companies with some "unintended," well-publicized results: there have been several reports of bikes parked inappropriately—blocking crosswalks, resting against poles and trees, blocking entrances and parked on bridges. Bikes have been seen laid down on their sides in the middle of sidewalks and in grassy areas, as well as found in lakes.

Burke said to curb these issues, a service boundary will be defined in the contract. The boundary will start small and gradually expand if the program is successful. Designated end-of-trip locations—such as bike racks or bike parking spaces outlined in paint within the right of way—will also be defined in the contract. It is also the bike-share companies' responsibility to relocate bikes that are not properly parked.

Bike-share riders would also have to comply with all local bicycle ordinances, Burke said.

The city will continue to add bike racks regardless of what kind of end-of-trip locations are agreed upon, he said.

The company would also be required to provide maintenance to the bikes, offer statistical reports and provide customer service.

Five bike-share companies are currently operating in Dallas, and on Jan. 18, Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax sent them a letter asking them to manage their bicycle fleets better. Companies have until Feb. 9 to relocate bicycles that have been placed on narrow sidewalks, turf, landscaping, multi-use trails or blocking access to public or private property, transit stops or sidewalk ramps. If the bikes aren't relocated by then, Broadnax said the city will start moving the bicycles.

Lumbreras said Dallas was "free and loose" with its bike-share programs, allowing too many companies and too many bicycles to launch at once.

"We're going to be very particular about whichever company or companies we work with in terms of how the program is rolled out," he said.

Burke said he expects the bike-share industry to consolidate in the future. For now, he said the city and Texas State would proceed with caution.

Company bids will be reviewed by the city and Texas State. Eight weeks after sending the Request for Proposal, Burke said he hopes to award a one-year contract with an option to review every year or every four years.

The contract comes with a six-month review, where the company will provide statistics and the city and the university will evaluate how the program is working at that point.

"I think our city and our students deserve having a good service, something that is reliable—that’s why I was insistent about the six-month review," Lumbreras said.

Burke said the Request for Proposal would allow for multiple types of bicycles, including electric bikes. The number of bikes permitted in San Marcos will be determined when the contract is drafted.

Nancy Nusbaum, Texas State's associate vice president of finance and support services planning, said several dockless bike-share companies have already reached out to the city and the university with an interest in operating within San Marcos.

The partnership and proposal comes on the heels of Austin's decision on Feb. 1 to approve a dockless bike-share pilot program. The pilot will start following a public engagement process that will include a community-wide survey and a forum, according to the city's transportation department. City Council also voted to expand its B-cycle program, which provides docked bike-share services throughout the city.
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