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New bike-share system promises ‘dockless without the drawbacks’

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Coming to four U.S. cities this spring, Pace joins the bike-share boom

The new Pace bike-share system, by Zagster, offers a hybrid between traditional and dockless systems.
Alex Contell

This spring, a new type of bike-share system, a hybrid of traditional systems such as Citibike and newer dockless fleets, will hit the streets in four U.S. cities, aiming to create a better, more affordable, public cycling system.

Known as Pace, the system features bikes that can be locked to official Pace bike racks, as well as any other existing racks, via a Bluetooth-enabled smart lock. Developed by Zagster, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company that currently operates more than 200 programs in 35 states, the new hybrid system aims to provide controlled flexibility. Simply requiring bikes to lock up, the company asserts, will make a big difference.

“We are dockless without the drawbacks,” says Zagster CEO Timothy Ericson. “If you’re a city and you want to bring in bike-share, you used to have to choose between the expensive dock-based model, or these unsustainable companies with loose bikes that are spread all over the streets and lost.”

Alex Contell

Dockless bike-share has become a hot trend in transportation and startup circles, with new companies launching in cities across the U.S., including Seattle and possibly even New York. Traditional, dock-based bike-share continues to expand. Citibike saw a record year in New York City in 2016, logging 14 million trips, a 40 percent increase. But the promised flexibility and affordability of GPS-based dockless systems, which lack much of the physical infrastructure and require less investment, especially those looking to launch a new system, is tempting. Images of bike graveyards in Chinese cities, where battles for market share led to piles of abandoned two-wheelers, and tales of colorful bikes scattered all over cities gives local officials pause.

Ericson argues that Pace provides flexibility for riders, allowing them to make more stops, cover more areas of a city, and have less restrictions on where they finish their rides. The system, which costs $1 per half hour of use, with bikes unlocked via an app, was tested in Rochester, New York, last July through October, with 350 bikes set up for a city of 200,000 people. Data from these early trials showed more point-to-point trips per use, and 6-7 times the ridership of other Zagster programs.

The Pace bike with the new Bluetooth-enabled lock.
Courtesy Zagster/Pace

“With the arrival of Pace, the success we’ve seen by offering our citizens a flexible, modern bike share service can be brought to other cities across the country,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren. “In its first season of operations in Rochester, Zagster has become a vital and integral component of our city’s existing transportation network and shown its willingness to be a true community partner.”

The Bluetooth locking system operates with a plug-in port that makes sure the bike is affixed to a rack or other solid object. Ericson says data on where users leave their bikes helps the system intelligently expand and set up racks in the areas of greatest use. Riders can simply click a button on the Pace/Zagster app to unlock a bike.

In addition to Tallahassee, the Pace system will also roll-out in Knoxville, Tennessee, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Huntsville, Alabama, in spring of 2018.