New Era for Bike-Share in New York: Dockless and Electric Bikes

New York is introducing dockless and electric bicycles like the one above in neighborhoods in the Bronx and Staten Island as part of its effort to expand transportation options.

Citi Bike has been the only bike-share option in New York City for the last five years.

The bright blue bikes were seemingly everywhere in parts of Manhattan. Then they started to appear near the waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens.

A new era of bike-share is beginning: dockless and electric bikes, spreading to the Bronx and Staten Island, where leaders have long complained about being left off the Citi Bike map.

After a sudden craze for electric scooters on the West Coast, New York is dipping its toe into the electric bike phenomenon with a pilot program to offer dockless bikes in three neighborhoods this summer, city leaders announced on Tuesday.

A company called Jump Bikes will offer dockless electric bikes that give riders a boost when they pedal, topping out at 20 miles per hour.

“It really makes you feel superhuman that you’re riding the bike and it amplifies your natural ability,” said Jump’s founder, Ryan Rzepecki, in an interview at the company’s office at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

New York has taken a cautious approach to dockless bikes after a company tried to set up shop in the Rockaways in Queens last summer without approval from the city. In cities like Seattle and Dallas, stray bikes have been spotted perched in a tree or discarded in a lake.

Officials in New York want to avoid setting off more chaos in a crowded city where hordes of pedestrians already compete for street space with honking cars and flocks of cyclists. Biking has become increasingly popular, especially since other modes of transportation have become less pleasant, from the floundering subway to congested streets.

New York recently approved new rules for electric bikes, allowing so-called pedal-assist bicycles that require a rider to pedal to activate an electric motor and to keep the bike moving. Bikes favored by delivery workers, known as throttle-controlled electric bikes, that can travel faster than 20 m.p.h. will remain illegal, a decision that raised concerns over discrimination against a largely immigrant work force.

The pilot program for dockless bikes, using both electric and regular bikes, will start this month in the Rockaways in Queens, in an area near Fordham University in the Bronx and on the North Shore of Staten Island. Each zone will have at least 200 bikes. If the trials are a success, they could expand to other neighborhoods across the city.

“We want to make sure we get this right,” said Polly Trottenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner. “We think the dockless technology holds a lot of promise.”

Riders will be able to rent a bike for a dollar or two. Instead of returning it to an available docking station, they can leave it at any bike rack or in the area between the sidewalk and the curb.

Uber, the ride-hail company, recently bought Jump. Its bikes are expected to appear in the Uber app, where you can reserve a dockless bike and pay for it on the app.

Ms. Trottenberg said she had tried one of Jump’s electric bikes in Washington in January and enjoyed the “extra zip.”

“In New York, I could see them being helpful for the East River bridges,” she said.

Silicon Valley has become practically obsessed with transportation, from Elon Musk’s proposal to dig a tunnel to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, to an arms race to improve driverless cars. With technological advances, it is easy to envision a future — still perhaps many years away — in which New York’s streets look very different, with autonomous vehicles moving alongside a host of electric-powered gadgets.

Several other companies will be involved in the dockless pilot program, including Lime, Pace and Ofo. Officials decided to delay a pilot in Coney Island in Brooklyn, which Citi Bike will operate, until later this year after concerns from the community over scheduled construction and crowds this summer.

Citi Bike will still have free rein of its territory in Manhattan and nearby neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. It has the exclusive right to those areas through 2029, according to its contract with the city.

Citi Bike arrived in New York in 2013, and after some initial setbacks, it has become hugely popular, hitting a record of 80,000 trips on one day in June. It has more than 145,000 annual members.

On Monday, the ride-hail company Lyft announced that it was buying the core operations of Motivate, the parent company that runs Citi Bike. Not much will change for Citi Bike users for now, though it is very likely the bikes will eventually be available in the Lyft app. Citi Bike is also exploring electric bikes and said recently that it would make them available during the shutdown of the L train subway tunnel next year.

Citi Bike was interested in expanding beyond its current borders in New York, but Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration chose to instead try dockless bikes. Dockless bikes can be rolled out more quickly than Citi Bike docks, which are expensive to build and often prompt fights with neighbors over dock locations.

As Uber and Lyft enter the bike-share business, electric scooters have become popular on the West Coast. An electric scooter start-up called Bird is raising new funding that would value the company at $2 billion. But the company’s unruly rollout of scooters has frustrated some local officials.

Asked whether Bird might try to launch in New York, a spokesman said only that the company was “exploring ways to help millions of New Yorkers join people in cities around the country enjoying a new way to get around that is affordable and environmentally friendly.”

In New York, dockless bikes will be an adjustment for some. With Jump, riders check out a bike using an app and a keypad on the back wheel. A lock is attached to connect it to a bike rack.

Jump already offers electric bikes in Washington, San Francisco and other cities. But Mr. Rzepecki, who lives in Manhattan and used to work for the city’s Transportation Department, said he always dreamed of bringing the bikes to New York. Eventually, he would like to expand citywide.

“It’s really dockless plus electric-assist — those two things really open up the market by making it extremely user friendly and easy to ride,” Mr. Rzepecki said.

At a security booth at the Navy Yard, Fatimah Smalls, a guard, said riding one of the free Jump bikes stationed around the Brooklyn campus felt smoother than riding a Citi Bike.

“It feels like you’re floating,” she said.

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