Editor’s note: The following article appeared on thedailyrecord.com on August 23, 2018.
It was disappointing and a bit disheartening to see Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Transportation Director Michelle Pourciau announce last week that the Baltimore Bike Share program was being shut down August 15.
The bike-sharing venture certainly endured a rocky go of it in Baltimore since launching in 2016. Issues that dogged the program included poor equipment maintenance, spotty availability of bikes at docking stations and theft.
It is unfortunate that the program, which works well in other big cities, could not succeed in Charm City.
By most accounts there is strong demand in Baltimore for bikes. Also, as the success of the Uber and Lyft ride-sharing ventures underscore, many major cities are in the midst of a transportation “reset” that is altering the way people move around urban areas and opening doors to mobility without the need to own an automobile.
Bike sharing and other innovative ventures are a part of this changing transportation dynamic and Baltimore needs to be all in.
Thankfully, the mayor and Pourciau announced that Baltimore Bike Share is being replaced by two new ventures, Lime and Bird. Lime is a startup that offers lime-colored bikes and electric scooters for rent. Bird offers electric scooters.
The city said the two companies will operate under a pilot program for six months. Each will be able to distribute as many as 1,000 units in the city. (Bird’s scooters, though, hit the streets in early July when the company distributed about 60 scooters, according to news reports.)
Unlike the bike-share program, the new ventures’ bikes and scooters don’t need to be picked up or dropped off at docking stations. Instead, customers access them via phone apps and can leave them just about anywhere when they arrive at their destination.
There have been some rumblings since Bird scooters started showing up before the city’s announcement of the pilot program that regulations may be needed to control where scooters, etc., are left and other issues.
But it’s best to stand down on any rush to regulate.
The city needs to give these innovators time to get established and work out the kinks so they can tap the demand for alternative types of personal transportation.
Millennials — who are strongly attracted to Baltimore’s affordability and diverse lifestyle options – expect innovative transportation, such as ride and bike-sharing, according to a study by the American Public Transportation Association.
“Millennials are multimodal,” the APTA study said. “They choose the best transportation mode…based on the trip they are planning to take.”
Further, the study noted that “Communities that attract Millennials have a multitude of transportation options.”
To ensure Baltimore remains an attractive place to live and work for this cadre of future corporate and civic leaders the city must do all that it can to foster a welcoming business climate for innovative modes of transportation that appeal to this on-the-go generation.
City officials and the business community should be mindful that transportation must be accessible, affordable and reliable. This is what opens up access to jobs, educational opportunities, social connections and more for the greatest number of people.
The city must take all reasonable steps to encourage and ensure Bird and Lime bikes and scooters are accessible, affordable and reliable to a wide footprint of the city.
This includes distribution to low-income and other communities in the city that lack transportation with fast and affordable access to job hubs. It will also require ensuring that customers in these areas can afford usage fees.
The city needs innovators like Bird and Lime to succeed — not so Baltimore can brag that it has these cool, new mobility options, but rather because innovative transportation alternatives are needed to access traditional transit modes, such a bus and trains, thus helping form a more interconnected multi-model system.
This will help fuel job access and growth in the city and the region. An innovative and interconnected transportation system is fundamental for the city’s future economy and would strengthen Baltimore’s business climate.
There’s a lot riding on the success of Bird and Lime. Let’s get it right this time.
Donald C. Fry is President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a frequent contributor to The Daily Record.