Houston leaders aren’t ready to hop on board putting bikes across the sprawling, often sidewalk-slim city, as the area appears to be one of the next battlegrounds – again — in the so-called gig-economy.
Staff of the city’s administration and regulatory affairs department have a proposed pilot program to allow all interested vendors to start deploying bicycles in Houston. The pilot would require the companies to pay a $20,000 bond and adhere to rules established by the city regarding where bikes can be located in the right of way and costs related to if the city has to address wayward bicycles. The pilot caps each company to 750 for the first month, and then add 250 bikes monthly for the next 11 months.
City staff would oversee the program, something that council members reacted to incredulously.
“We can’t even handle the shopping carts in the city of Houston and (regulatory affairs) thinks we can handle thousands of bikes,” scoffed District I Councilman Robert Gallegos, referring to the problem with carts littering bayous and alleys.
Dallas, where many of the dockless bike companies launched earlier this year, has had issues with the discarded cycles crowding sidewalks and blocking business entrances. A few bikes have been found washed into the Trinity River or White Rock Lake along which Dallas has popular trails and greenspace.
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Not only did the proposal land skeptically in front of council members, but it faces opposition from cycling advocates, who are hoping Houston’s Bike Share nonprofit manage all dockless bike share companies.
“We can manage it for the operator so it is not a nuisance,” said Paul Sorelle, a board member of Houston Bike Share.
Bike Share operates the B-Cycle system that distributes bikes at kiosks around the region. Currently, B-Cycle has 51 kiosks and around 400 bicycles in Houston, with plans to expand.
Officials with the nonprofit said they could manage operations locally for any of the companies, and would relocate bikes based on demand and address problems with bikes left on private property or inconvenient locations.
A number of companies are vying for public attention in the dockless bike realm. Two of the largest companies, Ofo and LimeBike, have both expressed interest in Houston operations. They are joined by a handful of others, such as Spin, Dropbike, MoBike and V Bikes.
None of the dockless bike companies or their lobbyists spoke on Tuesday. All have said they intend to manage local operations responsibly.
The issue – with council members unsure of its merits and safety risks and numerous companies vying for operational control in the city – harkens to less than three years ago when Houston tried to regulate transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft.
Uber and Lyft fought against some city regulations, saying they impeded business, as they aggressively recruited drivers. Ultimately, dissatisfied with the city’s rules, both sought and obtained state control of non-taxi ride hailing services via smartphone.
After hearing from ride hailing companies how they wanted to work with the city, some council members were unwilling to take the bike companies at their word when it comes to clearing bikes that block sidewalks or end up on private property