NORTH BETHESDA – Marko Dolan, a local resident, rode an e-bike for the first time earlier this month because he did not want to wait for a midday bus.
He had needed to either use public transportation or travel on foot to meet a friend for lunch in Bethesda, but then he saw a group of LimeBikes near a park in his neighborhood.
“My first impression is positive,” Dolan said after parking the bike at a bike rack outside White Flint Station. “[The park is] in Tilden Woods; it’s a little park, and there was like five LimeBikes there, so I was like, ‘What’s Lime?’”
Dolan downloaded the app to his smartphone, used it to unlock the bike and rode to White Flint Station, which was quicker than the 35 minutes it would have taken to walk there. He is on furlough, so he still had enough of time to meet his friend if he had walked.
“[The bike] plays a little music, unlocks, and then you’re ready to go,” Dolan said.
In December, with the County’s permission, Limebike started placing e-bikes, or electrical-assist bikes, in North Bethesda as an expansion of an existing county pilot. The county began its dockless bikeshare program in fall 2017, which included unassisted bikes.
The dockless bikes are rentals, like Capital Bikeshare, that riders use but can be parked on a sidewalk after their trips, instead of returning them to a base. LimeBike, the vendor, added electric-assist bikes to the mix with their dockless fleet just before the pilot expansion from Silver Spring and Takoma Park to North Bethesda.
The county hosted three town halls in Silver Spring and in Bethesda for feedback from residents in October and November before expanding the pilot, said Gary Erenrich, special assistant to the director at Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
“There really wasn’t anything holding us back,” Erenrich said, about the North Bethesda location. “It was just a question of, you know, there seemed to be a need, there’s no reason not to expand. The area we chose to expand made sense.”
During a six-month period, riders took 18,000 trips on the bikes in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, according to an October county report. County officials were interested in expanding the pilot to North Bethesda because the area has infrastructure for it such as bike lanes, Erenrich said. The fact that Capital Bikeshare — the docked, non-electric-assist bikes — has been a successful program in that area, added to the appeal.
One of the users of Capital Bikeshare in the North Bethesda area had been Dolan. He said he used Capital Bikeshare in the past and it had “worked well” for him. With the e-bike, Dolan said he felt a little bit of a “push” from the electric-assist, which made him momentarily lose control, and then he got used to it.
“It does give you a little push; [it’s] a very subtle push, but you might lose a little bit of control at first, you know, because it has e-charge,” Dolan said. “It’s like someone giving you a little, subtle push, you know, the bike.”
Users prefer the e-bike because it requires physical exercise and reduces his carbon footprint and his contribution to traffic, compared to driving or ride-sharing and costs less than ride-sharing. To lock it, the rider moves a red switch located behind the rear wheel.
Dolan said he liked the fact that the trip on the bike cost less than an Uber would. He said he paid $2.65 for the trip.
Officials say few complaints have come in since the pilot expansion as it currently considers expanding the e-bikes further to other parts of the County. However, Erenrich said he is not concerned about the complaints because none were about bikes being placed in dangerous locations, such as in front of a fire hydrant or bus stop, and because LimeBike relocates the bikes within a day of receiving a phone call.
“Specifically, we have experienced some of the e-bikes outside the expanded boundaries,” Erenrich said.
Allowing electric scooters for rent is possible in the future, but a new memorandum of understanding is needed first. Jurisdictions would have to opt in before the County would allow electric scooters in them.
“We’re still examining expansion elsewhere in the County, and expansion for the scooters,” Erenrich said. “We’re developing a new MOU [memorandum of understanding] to include the scooters, and that’s still being reviewed.”
The county received complaints of at least one e-bike located in Rockville Town Center and another in Olde Towne Gaithersburg. If residents see the bikes outside the pilot area, Erenrich said they should contact LimeBike via the phone number printed on the bikes.