SILVER SPRING — As the rain was pouring down Saturday afternoon, Ashton Green, 26, was peddling so fast on Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring he kept yelling “Excuse me! Excuse me!” to avoid pedestrians.
Green, who had just gotten his phone stolen, was using a yellow OFO bike as his method of transportation to catch the man who took his phone. “I’m trying catch the dude that got my phone but riding these bikes ain’t easy,” he said. “That’s my issue with them – they [are] hard to ride — they only have three gears.”
Green said that he was on his phone to retrieve the code needed to unlock and ride a OFO bike when it was snatched from his hand. “That’s the only thing good about these bikes, I swear,” he said. “You can just grab and go once you got the app on your phone.”
The bright yellow bicycles offered by OFO are just one of four different varieties of bikes available from dockless bike-sharing services that can now be found in Montgomery County.
Since October, shared bicycles can be found on street corners and sidewalks, in front yards and even in the streets, making them very noticeable to the public. “MCDOT has designated [by pavement markings] parking areas for the bikes, and the companies and MCDOT have provided guidelines for parking bikes, such as they must be parked on public property, cannot block sidewalks, street parking, transit stops or ADA access,” said Montgomery County Department of Transportation representative Esther Bowring in an email. Bowring explained that the four bikesharing providers — SPIN, LIMEBIKE, OFO and MO BIKE — reached a 6-12 month demonstration project agreement with the County last fall to make dockless bike sharing available in the area.
The demonstration program’s effectiveness evaluated based on several factors, with the most weight given to feedback received from the community.
“MCDOT continues to work with the dockless bike vendors to identify the appropriate number of bikes needed to provide good service without overwhelming an area,” she said. “Maintaining pedestrian and ADA access is a high priority, and the companies and MCDOT continue to conduct outreach to help bike users better understand where to and where not to park,”
One apparent problem with the dockless bicycles when compared with the popular Capital BikeShare program is that without a dock the bikes can be left anywhere, but according to Bowring, the only way they can become a hazard is if users fall to follow traffic laws or park them improperly.
Residents with complaints or other issues regarding the dockless bicycles can contact the various companies for support directly. LimeBike, for example, has a 24/7 customer service team and its bicycles have builtin sensors that allow a local on-theground operations team to use the Global Positioning System to track any bikes that have fallen or are on the ground, LimeBike representative Emma Green said in an email that the company’s system is the only bikesharing system with a built-in app feature which “allows riders to report bikes that are irresponsibly parked, out of network or require maintenance.”
“This feature allows our local team to respond immediately and ensure that bikes are maintained and parked responsibly,” Green said, adding that LimeBike will continue to education riders so that “responsible bike share use and parking becomes a natural habit for the entire community.”
But the disorganized nature of dockless bike-sharing appeared to be a downside for Montgomery County resident Ashton Green. “It’s too all over the place, man!” Green said while attempting to change gears as rain began falling harder. “Look around you, you see them everywhere.”
Green said the dockless bikes would be “perfect” if the bikes were maintained in a more organized manner. “They should have someone collecting them so that way they don’t get damaged or stolen,” he said.
Bicycles from SPIN, LIMEBIKE, OFO, and MO BIKE can be found in Silver Spring and Takoma Park.