Phoenix bike share lets you park anywhere, but most people stick to docks

by: April Corbin, PeopleForBikes equity writer

Phoenix’s Grid Bike Share is the first system in the country to let users choose either to park at a dock or to drop their bike anywhere.

But in a happy twist for Phoenicians without smartphones, it turns out that most people are checking their bikes back into the docks anyway.

Grid Bike COO John Romero says users of the system are appreciative of the feature, even if they are taking advantage of it less than 5 percent of the time. One question often brought up by potential bike share users is, what happens if I get to my destination and the dock is full? With Grid Bikes, they can just lock up at a traditional rack and avoid having to find a less convenient rack.

Phoenix and Tampa Bay are the first major cities in the United States to launch using GPS-enabled bicycles, which are supplied by the company Social Bikes.

“It’s not universally appealing, but it offers flexibility,” says Romero. “Our users are typically still using the docking stations, but the option is getting utilized by a small percentage.”

One major deterrent to docking off-station is the $2 fee charged by Grid Bikes to do so. Regular users can offset that amount by earning a $1 credit whenever they check out an undocked bike and return it to a station. This balance of incentive and disincentive keeps most of the bikes at stations, which is good news for anybody who doesn’t have a GPS-enabled smartphone to help them find an undocked bicycle.

That’s not an insignificant number of people either. While the public perception may be that a few older folks are the only people without smartphones these days, surveys from the Pew Research Center suggest otherwise. They found that, in 2014, 83 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 has a smartphone; 74 percent of 30 to 49-year-olds do. That leaves 17 and 26 percent of those respective populations without a smartphone. Ownership is more common among those with higher household incomes.

In 2013, Social Bikes CEO and founder Ryan Rzepecki was asked about social equity and access for people without smartphones. He pointed out that users only need the Internet to sign up originally but can checkout a bike without a smartphone, though he didn’t address the inability to find an undocked bicycle while on the go.

At Grid Bikes, a majority of people—upwards of 80 percent—are signing up via a mobile device. But Romero doesn’t think a membership that leans more toward the tech-savvy is a bad thing necessarily, so long as other options still exist. He says equity is still something the bike share is working toward.

“Phoenix has been car-centric for a long time,” he says. “We’re a key part in shifting that culture.”

The Better Bike Share Partnership is a JPB Foundation-funded collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write april@peopleforbikes.org