Dockless bicycles and e-bikes come to car-dependent Staten Island

JUMP bikes, a dockless bikeshare, parked on Staten Island on Thursday.
JUMP bikes, a dockless bikeshare, parked on Staten Island on Thursday. Photo Credit: French Louie

Dockless bike sharing is rolling into Staten Island.

Over the next few days, pay-per-ride bikes from companies Lime and JUMP will be seen cruising around a designated zone encompassing parts of the fifth borough’s North and East shores. Unlike Citi Bike, these new, still somewhat unproven services forgo docks, allowing riders to lock and unlock bikes from apps on their phones and park them where they please.

City DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg believes that the bikes will “prove to be very popular” in the area, the second of four pilot zones in the outer boroughs where the city will be testing the technology this summer. Lime began rolling out a few dozen bikes Thursday, but the program will ramp up on Saturday, when both companies will start rolling out pedal-assisted e-bikes. Those bikes are equipped with a battery and a motor that gives riders an extra boost when they pedal, making Staten Island’s hilly terrain more manageable.

Community groups and local officials, such as Borough President James Oddo and Councilwoman Debi Rose, hailed the pilot program for bringing a new transit option to the car-dependent borough. Trottenberg said the bike sharing could spur better cycling infrastructure—perhaps more bike lanes, or bike parking—in the future.

“We’re hoping people are going to love it and it will sort of up the demand for the kind of bike infrastructure we need if we’re really going to build out a big program,” Trottenberg said at a news conference in Snug Harbor. “And, obviously, sometimes to put up a few bike racks, you got to take away a few parking spaces. And if we feel that we need to start doing that quickly for this pilot, we will. But we also feel like this will help test and really grow the demand for this infrastructure.”

Lime’s regular bikes are priced at $1 for 30-minute rides. The pedal-assist bikes are a bit more expensive. E-bikes from Lime will cost $1 to unlock and then 15 cents a minute to ride. JUMP’s bikes are priced at $2 for a 30-minute ride. Each company will have workers charging bikes, or swapping out batteries, to ensure the pedal-assist bikes are charged. Lime bikes are free-standing, dependent on a lock that runs through each bike’s back wheel. JUMP’s bikes come with a u-lock and riders are advised to lock them to a bike rack.

Both companies will either be offering discounts to NYCHA residents, or riders enrolled in a federally-run assistance program.

“We are so proud to be serving an option to residents and work with the city to provide a fair network of transportation,” said Nelle Pierson, of JUMP, which is owned by Uber.

Cries of hypocrisy

But the e-bike rollout came with criticism from advocates. The city has had to clarify its law to allow for the rollout of pedal-assist bikes in New York. Meanwhile, another form of e-bike that relies on a combination of throttle and pedal assist technology — the type popular among delivery cyclists who ride many miles over long shifts — remains illegal to operate.

Mel Gonzalez, a fellow at Make the Road New York, said it was “hypocritical” for the city to pursue the clarification in the law as the police department cracks down on delivery workers’ bikes through confiscations and $500 fines.

“The city seemingly moved mountains for these big companies,” Gonzalez said, “but has left the real e-bike riders in this city behind and has criminalized them. This is their livelihood.”

Trottenberg said the city has been meeting with groups like Make the Road to potentially facilitate a program to convert the throttle bikes into legal pedal-assist versions.

“We are definitely engaging with them,” Trottenberg said. “Hopefully, we will be able to satisfy everybody.”