- Boise City Council
- LimeBike Director of Government Affairs and Strategic Development Gabriel Scheer delivered a presentation on his bike-share program to the Boise City Council on May 15.
“This is certainly going to present significant challenges to us if they’re allowed to operate in this market,” Fotsch said.
Over the last several years, Boise GreenBike has cultivated community partners such as the Ada County Highway District and the City of Boise, and sponsors like St. Luke's and SelectHealth, to deploy more than 120 bikes in the downtown core, but a purchase order and a donation from a sister program will more than double the size of its fleet by year's end and allow GreenBike to expand into the Boise State University neighborhood.
The introduction of a possible competitor like LimeBike, Fotsch said, could force GreenBike to adopt LimeBike's "dockless" model that allows users to pick up and drop off bikes anywhere, rather than be geographically tethered to a network of hubs scattered across the GreenBike service area. While GreenBike has dockless technology on its bikes—and even piloted a dockless pilot project during Treefort Music Fest this year—Fotsch said competition with a native dockless bike-share operator could stretch his operation, now in its third year, thin.
"My sponsors are very concerned about the possibility of this unproven model coming into the market," he said.
LimeBike is a newcomer, and not just to Boise. Launched in January 2017, its bikes first hit the road in June 2017, and has since sent 35,000 bikes to cities across the U.S. and around the globe, its wheels greased by $132 million in venture capital, which has allowed it to launch into cities with little, or no upfront costs. But according to LimeBike Director of Government Affairs and Strategic Development Gabriel Scheer, who made the LimeBike presentation to Boise officials on May 15, the company is already looking at financial sustainability.
"The funding becomes really important when you’re talking about longevity: How are you going to run a sustainable business, and how will we be there to get into markets? That said, we’re not relying on that forever," Scheer said. "We have markets already that are showing themselves to be successful where, when venture capital is no longer how we survive, we will actually be surviving on revenue from usage."
During the presentation, he responded to some concerns from the City Council about possible bike abuse, maintenance and usage. In some cities, there have been reports of vandalism and destruction or misplacement of dockless bikes.
"The way that we’re regulated really varies, but parking from our perspective has to be the same. We see our company surviving and succeeding through operational success," he said. "If our bikes end up misparked or left in places they shouldn’t be, we’re not going to succeed, not least because citizens or residents will look at this and say, ‘This isn’t working for me.’"
As for GreenBike, Scheer said he has few data points to work with, but in Washington, D.C., a sister bike-share program to GreenBike, Cabi, has actually seen an increase in ridership since LimeBike entered its market—something he attributed to the "network effect."
"Usage on Cabi has gone up. There has been a rise in usage. The theory there is not dissimilar to Uber and Lyft; it’s the network effect. For most people, most days, they chose their own vehicle because it’s the most reliable way of getting to and from here to there and back again. When I have alternatives that are not as reliable, I won’t choose them. It’s only when you have some scale that you have the ability to rely on this option," he said.
Fotsch, who attended the presentation and said he has heard of similar presentations at other Treasure Valley cities, said he remained skeptical that LimeBike would not undermine Boise GreenBike, and worried that LimeBike's short track record and business model could ultimately leave the City of Trees in the lurch.
"As Gabriel said in his presentation, this company is a little over a year old. In less than a year, they’ve developed this model and deployed in cities across the country," Fotsch said. "I think it’s still an unproven model. How long can they keep bleeding money? They’re not making any money. Trust me on this, I know: I run a bike-share system."
The City Council took no action following the presentation, but Scheer indicated that his company has stated its ambition to operate in Boise and is expected to address city leaders again at an upcoming work session.
Original Post Tuesday, May 15, 3 p.m.:
- By SounderBruce [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
"It's the start of a conversation, if anything," said Boise City Spokesman Mike Journee.
LimeBike, which operated in 38 cities and more than a dozen college campuses worldwide as of April 2018, uses "dockless" technology that allows users to locate and reserve bikes using an app, typically charging $1 for a 30-minute ride, differing from Boise's current bike-share partner, Boise GreenBike, which asks users to find rides at hub-style lockups scattered across downtown Boise.
Should LimeBike rides hit Boise's streets, they would likely be competitive with the Boise GreenBike program, which is a division of Valley Regional Transit. Its director, Dave Fotsch, could not be reached for comment.
Similar services have had a mixed run in cities across the country. In New York and its surrounding boroughs, the bikes have been praised for having a wider range than bicycle hub-based services. Other programs have been less successful, and the technology has been criticized for being insecure, making it easier for people to deface, destroy or otherwise take bikes out of commission. Earlier this year, a bike-share company pulled out of Paris following the "mass destruction" of its fleet.
According to the meeting agenda, the presentation is "information only"—that is, city leaders are unlikely to seal an agreement with LimeBike on May 15. Journee added that it's de rigueur for developers, "business folks" and others who would like to provide services to the city to present before the council.
"They approached us and said, 'Hey, we'd be interested in coming to your city. How should we approach that?'" Journee said.