Yellow, orange, green or blue?
Bike-sharing wars are bringing more choices — and lower prices — to Greater Miami.
The pioneer in dockless bike-sharing, ofo, launched operations in South Miami this week with bright yellow cycles. LimeBike started service in Miami Shores and North Bay Village two weeks ago, and its bikes also roam Key Biscayne. The orange bikes of Spin may soon be seen around Doral and Miami Lakes.
These dockless systems work a lot like older bike-sharing systems, except you can, at least in theory, park the bikes anywhere. That differs from Citi Bikes in Miami and Miami Beach, for instance, where the bright blue bikes are picked up and returned to fixed locations.
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“We are forward-thinking in South Miami, and station-free bike-sharing is another way to bring another technology to our community that can change the way residents experience their city, help tourists get around, improve access and positively impact our environment,” said South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard about the launch of ofo’s service this week.
The increase in bike-sharing options comes as cycling becomes ever more popular in Miami-Dade. Dedicated bike lanes have been increasing, at least slightly, and Critical Mass bike rides can draw hundreds of riders every month.
But don’t let all the happy talk and bright colors fool you. This is an all-out bike war.
Like its dockless competitors, ofo’s bikes are located using a GPS finder on ofo’s mobile app and are equipped with a smart lock on the rear wheel. Users can unlock the bikes by scanning a QR code on the bike, using their phones.
Meanwhile, San Francisco-based Spin has partnered with the cities of Doral and Miami Lakes to bring its orange bikes with solar-powered electronics and locks to South Florida. The service, now in eight U.S. cities, plans to deploy more than 100 bicycles in each of the cities, the South Florida Business Journal reported. LimeBike, also based in the San Francisco Bay Area, is now in three Miami area cities with about 400 bikes. The startup has said it plans to expand in South Florida, too.
Rides on ofo (the word is supposed to look like someone riding a bike) cost $1 per hour, half the cost of LimeBike and Spin. For frequent riders, Citi Bike so far has the best price in the market for monthly memberships, $15 per month for unlimited 30-minute rides and $25 for unlimited 60-minute rides.
An executive at Beijing-based ofo said ofo plans to roll out a membership plan, too, and hinted that more South Florida areas could be serviced soon.
“We want to put ofos anywhere consumers want them,” said Chris Nakutis Taylor, head of ofo U.S., in an interview this week. “We are in discussions with other cities.”
Taylor calls the competition “clones.” “We were the first to come along — there is an intention there. That’s what sets us apart. Our founder created a bike-sharing community in rural China so kids could go to school. That social mission is ingrained in us,” said Taylor, previously a regional manager for Uber.
Stationed systems such as Citi Bike have locked in exclusive contracts, and that’s “unfortunate,” Taylor said. “They have a good business, but consumers deserve choice.”
Dockless systems are new in South Florida, but not bike-sharing. DecoBike launched in Miami Beach in 2011 as a private vendor working with the city, modeled on successful programs in Paris, Barcelona and Montreal. In 2014, DecoBike expanded to Miami, won a corporate sponsorship from Citibank — the underwriter of New York City’s well-known bike-sharing program — and rebranded its South Florida programs as Citi Bike Miami.
Citi Bike Miami has a fleet of about 1,950 bikes and serves Miami Beach, Miami, Surfside and Bay Harbor Islands. The company declined to comment for this story.
To be sure, dockless bikes are far more prevalent in Asia and Europe and aren’t without controversy. People leave the bikes in the middle of the sidewalk, and in some locations vandalism has been a big problem. Some cities fear that the uncontrolled introduction of these will bring chaos to sidewalks and plazas. Paris is moving to regulate bike sharing in the same way some cities are trying to clamp down on Airbnb’s growth, according to a Reuters report.
In Singapore, for instance, bikes in five dockless bike-sharing services will now have to be parked in particular zones, according to an article in Mashable last week. In Shanghai, police have confiscated thousands of illegally parked bikes; photos were widely shared on the Internet.
In these bike wars, ofo is the oldest and the largest of the dockless rivals. Founded in 2014 in Beijing, ofo operates in more than 180 cities across 17 countries and generates more than 32 million daily transactions, the company said. In the U.S., cities that ofo operates in include Seattle, Washington, D.C., the greater Boston area, Dallas and Aurora, Colorado.
It’s by far the best funded, too. This summer ofo raised $700 million in venture capital, including from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and Didi Chuxing, the “Uber of China,” to fuel its worldwide expansion.
Still, biking in South Florida is not for the faint of heart. Dedicated bike lanes are relatively rare, and pedestrian and bicycle accident rates are among the highest in the country. Earlier this year, Miami Beach began installing bike lanes protected from traffic. Miami-Dade has launched a yearlong test along First Street in downtown Miami, limiting car traffic to one lane and providing a separate one for bicycles.
Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.