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Seeing green: City considers LimeBike expansion

Mayor says city would work with service to mitigate bike 'litter' and focus on program's positives

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Bikes are lined up before a LimeBike ride starting at Wright Plaza on April 18, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Thanks to hundreds of eager students, LimeBikes have been peddled all over East Carolina University and downtown Greenville.

Now the bike-share program is hoping to expand its band of spokes people by wheeling and dealing with officials create a partnership with the city.

LimeBike came to ECU at the beginning of March, expanding greatly the following month and a half. Now the sight of the bright green bicycles is common on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods.

The program touts its dock-less operating model, which allows for customers to leave the bicycles anywhere close to a right-of-way, instead of returning them to a home base. Company officials said this model increases the desirability of their product, but it can also lead to abandoned bicycles clogging up sidewalks and lawns. 

The bikes work in conjunction with a mobile phone app, which can be downloaded free from the Apple and Android stores. Once downloaded, users can access a map that shows the location of nearby bikes, which are tagged with GPS devices.

The bikes are locked and cannot be ridden until a customer purchases a ride by scanning a barcode on the bicycle with the phone app. Rides typically cost $1 for 30 minutes. Users can park the bikes and reengaged the locks to stop the meter and end the ride. 

The application also allows users to report damaged or inappropriately parked bicycles, which alerts the local LimeBike team, who are dispatched to fix the problem. 

Dan Sieg, Greenville operations manager for LimeBike, said the it started with 150 bikes, but has since upgraded to 225 bikes to keep up with customer demand. In order to keep the bikes in appropriate locations, the four-person Greenville LimeBike team splits shifts, driving around the city and collecting the bikes. 

“The biggest issue — and this is what a lot of cities have — is the litter, where there can be five or six tipped over on a corner,” Sieg said. “If you don’t have a strong operations team to be there to find that and fix that, then it looks bad and that's what gives the bike-share program a bad name.”

Sieg said he believes his team is on top of tracking and maintaining the bikes, and quickly responds to complaints about bike locations. He said they typically try to place bikes in areas where they believe there is a high need, such as near dormitories before morning classes. 

Currently, LimeBike only has a partnership with ECU, but city officials said they likely will be making a deal to expand the program into city limits.

Mayor P.J. Connelly said right now the city is waiting and using the ECU launch as a test case to figure out factors will need to be considered when a partnership is created. 

“It’s a great opportunity for the community,” he said. “It’s a great way to get people involved in recreational activities; it’s great for transportation — especially for the younger generation that doesn’t have vehicles. We’re excited about the opportunity to bring LimeBikes to Greenville.”

Connelly said although some residents have expressed concerns about the bikes being left everywhere and presenting a nuisance, city officials plan to work with the company to keep the positive effects of the program far ahead of the negatives. 

“There’s always a little bit of concern; anything can happen,” Connelly said. “It’s a fun thing, and from what I understand people like to leave bikes in the most interesting places that they can. There’s always a potential for it to be a hazard. But I think the good of LimeBikes outweighs the bad.”

Kevin Mulligan, director of the city’s Department of Public Works, said officials are in discussions with the company. He said he and other city staff took a trip to Greensboro where bike-shares are active to see how the programs worked.

Mulligan said staff was interested in creating an incentive program that would reward customers for dropping off bikes at specific locations in the city, eventually earning free rides. 

Sieg said that Greenville is something of a test market for LimeBike, because the market is smaller than the company’s typical agreements. Because of that, Sieg said running a lean operation was crucial to making it work. 

He said the experience has been rewarding, and he believes the increased availability of bikes is having an effect on the community, convincing more and more people each day cycle in the city. 

“One of my favorite things I've seen so far doing this is people who have not ridden bikes In 10 years getting back on it,” he said. “At first they’re wobbly kneed, and you can tell they haven't done it in a while, and eventually you know as the saying goes, it’s just like riding a bike.

“I think it’s really cool for a community — especially a tighter-knit one like Greenville and ECU — to get something like this and they’re able to experience riding a bike again.”

Mulligan said if the city decides to pursue a agreement with LimeBike, it would likely go before City Council, at least at one of the council’s non-voting workshops. He said it might not be necessary to get a formal vote on the agreement because it would be a no-cost contract for the city. 

Contact Seth Thomas Gulledge at sgullege@reflector.com and 329-9579.