Transportation

Dockless Bikes Slowly Roll into Hawaii’s Capital

Sharee, the first bike-share to operate in Honolulu sans a dock, is moving deliberately into the city. Other jurisdictions have struggled to control loose bikes and scooters in the public right of way.

by Nina Wu, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / November 20, 2018

(TNS) — A new, dockless bikeshare has rolled into Honolulu to provide some competition for Biki, but in a slow and cautious way — and with considerable hurdles ahead.

Sharee, Honolulu’s first dockless bikeshare, which allows riders to lock and unlock bikes via a smartphone app, officially launched Oct. 20 but has only about two dozen bikes in circulation. Most are at Ohana Hale Marketplace on Ward Avenue, but a few are in Chinatown, two are in Haleiwa, one is in Kakaako and one is at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“Basically, we thought there was an opportunity here to introduce a dockless bikeshare system,” said Sharee CEO Alexander Wong. “We knew it would be very complicated because of other factors involved, whether it was working with private property owners, working with government, working with fellow neighbors and locals alike. We thought it was a good initiative in terms of trying to reduce the number of traffic from rental cars.”

Wong, a startup entrepreneur with 20 years of retail travel experience, launched the bikeshare under Neptune New Solutions LLC. It is a for-profit venture but has the same stated goal as the city: to help reduce Honolulu’s carbon footprint.

While the company has 400 registered, licensed bikes ready to go, most are sitting in storage.

Dockless bikeshares have operated in other metropolitan cities for at least three years, and Wong said he thought they would be viable in Honolulu.

The GPS-enabled Sharee bikes have a white frame, 24-inch wheels with green trim, and are equipped with a basket, smartphone clip and solar-powered lights. The bikes are single-speed for easier maintenance for the first phase of the rollout, according to Wong.

They can be parked and locked at any public bike rack instead of docked at stations that take up parking spaces in neighborhoods, he said.

To access the bikes, riders download the free Ride Sharee app, enter a phone number, pay with a credit card, then scan a QR code that unlocks the bike.

One nifty feature is a “reserve” option, which allows riders to park and lock the bike for up to 15 minutes to run a quick errand, then resume the ride, at no extra charge. A rider who chooses the “reserve” button and returns before 15 minutes can unlock the bike and continue riding. Beyond 15 minutes the ride automatically ends.

Lime of San Francisco attempted in May to launch dockless, electric scooters by placing them on Honolulu sidewalks overnight but was quickly booted by the city administration, which said they could not legally be parked on sidewalks.

Lime, which got its start with dockless bikeshare systems (typically for $1 per half-hour), in July got a boost from Uber, which invested in its scooter startup and agreed to offer its service on its app. Lime recently announced the launch of its first car-sharing service in Seattle but has not attempted, so far, to return to Honolulu with dockless electric scooters or bikes.

Sharee is asking riders to park only in the locations indicated on the app or at public bike racks. There are hundreds of bike racks throughout urban Honolulu, according to Wong, who is also working with private landowners to establish some parking zones.

The company requests that riders not park the bikes on a residential lanai, inside a housing compound or in an above-ground or underground parking garage.

The city issued a statement in response to Ride Sharee’s launch.

“The city supports the development of multimodal transportation alternatives and welcomes Ride Sharee as another option for residents and visitors to explore our city,” said Jon Nouchi, city transportation services deputy director. “It appears Ride Sharee is committed to a business model that utilizes only private property to conduct all commercial transactions to rent bicycles that are self-powered by the rider. However, all companies should be aware that city property, including public bicycle racks, cannot be used for commercial transactions until and unless they first obtain authorization from the city.”

While Sharee bikes can be parked at public city bike racks, renting one from a public rack would be considered a commercial transaction, according to the city.

Wong said a patrol team tracks, monitors and collects the bikes nightly. Those left at city racks will be returned to the company’s home base at Ohana Hale Marketplace within a day or two.

The cost of a 30-minute ride is $3.50, with a minimum down payment of $10. Riders who put down $50 will get an additional $10 in free rides, with no time limits on when to use them.

Ride Sharee is charging the same amount as Biki for a single-use, 30-minute ride at $3.50.

Wong said he wanted to be competitive with Biki but not undercut Honolulu’s first bikeshare system, which is run by Bikeshare Hawaii, a nonprofit offering approximately 1,000 bikes at 100 Biki stops from downtown Honolulu to Diamond Head. Biki also offers monthly plans and a “free spirit pass,” a bank of 300 minutes usable at any time.

Biki, which was launched in June 2017 with a $2 million subsidy from the city and state, recently announced it would be expanding by about 30 more stations and 300 more bikes by the end of the year with funds from the federal Transportation Alternative Program.

“Bikeshare Hawaii and our Biki program welcomes all shared modes of transportation that help to make our community healthier, greener and safer for all,” said Bikeshare Hawaii Executive Director Todd Boulanger in a statement.

He said the docked system was chosen by the community after it reviewed multiple options, including two dockless systems.

“As Biki ridership continues to grow, we are proud that other companies are recognizing the benefit and demand for bicycles and other transportation alternatives in our community,” continued Boulanger.

In the future, Wong said, Ride Sharee would implement a tiered paying system, with discounts for students and seniors, and possible promotions in partnership with local businesses. Data on routes will be shared with the University of Hawaii for planning purposes. The replacement cost for a lost or missing bike is $1,000.

Wong said he is also following developments on Bill 57, introduced by city Councilman Trevor Ozawa last summer, which sets up rules and fees and would require new bikeshare systems, whether docked or undocked, to obtain a city permit before providing their services. The bill is still in budget committee and has not been scheduled for a third hearing yet.

While dockless bikes and scooters have mixed reviews in other cities — with vandalism, theft and rampant parking on sidewalks as issues — Wong said he is taking a leap of faith in humanity, believing most people will use Sharee bikes responsibly.

As more people move into high-rise condos with limited space, he said he believes more will participate in a sharing economy.

“Sharing technology is a bet on the human race,” he said. “It is a bet that humans are civilized and will treat and respect property as if it is their own. To use common sense and take care of the overall community with regards to how to park, how to ride and respect for your fellow human being.”

©2018 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.