A national movement towards “lock-to” in dockless mobility

Lock-to Tech Is Now a Requirement for Dockless Bike Share Operators in Some of the Largest American Cities, Signaling a Dramatic Shift in the Explosive Urban Mobility Market

By: Tim Ericson, CEO, Zagster

Chicago and Austin. The cities of wind and weird. Two of the most populous in the U.S. And now, they have something else in common. Each is rolling out a new bike sharing program, but doing so in a very different way than some of their peers.

Across Austin’s downtown and Chicago’s South Side, dockless bikes must lock to things.

Both cities have rolled out regulations that require “lock-to technology” to ensure dockless bikes (and scooters in Austin) are properly and securely locked to something, not just to themselves. The fact that two of America’s largest cities have enacted lock-to regulations within a month of each other signals a seismic shift in the explosive urban mobility market.

This shouldn’t come as a shock. Bikes have always locked to things! Yet lured by free bikes from VC-backed bike sharing startups, some cities like Dallas and Seattle quickly launched ‘free floating’ dockless bike sharing programs without fully considering the consequences when people don’t have to lock up. Other cities watched as dockless operators dropped bikes and scooters on streets and sidewalks without permission and without any regulations to stop them. While these new mobility options provided undeniable benefits, bad things happened too — the very same things that happened in China when hundreds of thousands of ‘lockless’ bikes flooded streets without common-sense parking regulations.

At Zagster, we believe all U.S. cities should reap the benefits of dockless bike sharing, but without having to settle for the drawbacks: bikes littering the streetscape, bikes blown over or knocked over, bikes vandalized and damaged (rendering them unsafe) and even bikes dumped in lakes, on top of trees and in front of oncoming trains. With their lock-to regulations, Chicago and Austin are taking common-sense steps to mitigate the hard lessons learned by other cities.

Here’s an excerpt from Chicago’s new dockless regulations:

“Starting on July 1st, vendor must provide a fleet of dockless bikes that have lock-to technology only, which requires that the bikes be locked to a fixed object to end a rental trip.”

We know dockless is the future of bike share and urban mobility. But we also know that lock-to dockless is required to build safe, sustainable, equitable programs. We developed Pace, our national dockless bike sharing service, with this in mind. Since December, we’ve launched Pace in a number of pioneering cities (Albuquerque, Knoxville, Tallahassee, Rochester, and Norfolk) that agree with our philosophy.

While we’ve been talking to larger cities, we’ve have held off participating in their unregulated dockless programs or launching without permission — waiting for lock-to regulations to be in place. Now that large cities are passing lock-to regulations, and issuing cease and desist notices to non-compliant providers, we’re thrilled to bring Pace to them. We’ve been live on Chicago’s South Side for a couple of weeks and today are launching the first of 500 Pace bikes in downtown Austin.

As the company with more bike sharing experience than any other (250+ programs nationwide), we pioneered the dockless smart bike platform. And with Pace, we’ve designed in our lock-to tech — an integrated, two-point locking system — to make it incredibly simple to lock Pace bikes to our racks, public racks, street signs or other legal, fixed objects. As a result, Pace bikes are parked improperly only a fraction of the time (less than 4% based on our data) vs. 30% or more for lockless bikes. We’re also investing in a smart parking program to get bike racks everywhere riders need them, both to foster Pace ridership but also to create a vibrant cycling culture in every city.

Now, some lock-to detractors will say that having to lock your bike hinders ridership by making it slightly less convenient. But our data finds the opposite to be true. Pace’s lock-to model actually unlocks a number of benefits that increase ridership compared to free-floating dockless programs, including:

  • A better ride. Because Pace’s lock-to tech mitigates theft, abuse and accidental damage, we can afford to provide a much higher-quality bike that people really want to ride. Additionally, Pace and other lock-to services like Uber’s JUMP let riders hold their bikes during trips to make stops, which fosters more use cases. Pace Knoxville rider Daniel E. explains: “[Pace] just makes things easier. I ride Pace to restaurants, the gym, and places where parking a car can be super stressful.”
  • Real-estate and business partnerships. Through our new partner program we’re providing bike parking to properties, businesses and schools in our cities, and they’re offering Pace as an amenity to employees, tenants, customers and students. Our partners offer convenient, predictable, secure places to park and encourage more people to ride, which fosters routine use and drives network effects. In Pace Rochester, we’ve seen more than 50% of new riders come from partner referrals.
  • Gamification. Bike share is one of the best ways to explore cities, particularly when the places you visit help subsidize the travel cost. So we’ve created Pace Places — iconic urban destinations that are ostensibly free to bike to. When a Pace rider ends a trip at Cork & Kerry in Chicago, The Little Theater in Rochester, or South Coast Pizza in Knoxville, they’ll get a $1 ‘thank you’ towards their next ride. Businesses get customers, riders get rewarded, and cities eliminate bike litter. Win-win-win.

Just six months in to launching Pace — now live in seven U.S. cities — we’re already delivering impressive ridership not yet seen in dockless bike sharing. Pace Rochester and Pace Norfolk, for example, are already outperforming dockless programs in much larger, more dense cities on a rides-per-bike basis. And we’re just getting started.

Bikes have always locked to things, and we don’t think that should change with shared bikes. We’re thrilled to see more and more U.S. cities — those as large as Chicago and Austin as well as early pioneers like Rochester and Norfolk — agree that our lock-to philosophy and model is the right way to bring dockless mobility to everyone. Which city will be next?