Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn and Swampscott are seeing red over scattered green and yellow bikes

Ant bikes were left scattered along the ground in Central Square. (Spenser R. Hasak)

SWAMPSCOTT — You’ve probably seen them; green and yellow bikes are all over the area. Some are left standing on a kickstand, but often they’re left dumped on the ground.

The numerous complaints from Lynn and Swampscott regarding the discarded and damaged bikes being left around have been heard. On Tuesday, Swampscott town officials met with John Gallagher, co-founder of Ant Bicycle, the widely seen green bikes, to discuss the best ways to mitigate the number of abandoned bikes.

“Our concern was, while we understand the growing ridership, it’s not appropriate to have these bikes everywhere in a haphazard way,” said Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald. “We get complaints that bikes are strewn around the community and, aesthetically, they just look unpleasant when congregating in a big area.”

The main purpose of the meeting was for officials to lay all complaints and concerns on the table and go over possible solutions with the bike sharing company. Swampscott Selectman Laura Spathanas mentioned how the bikes are continuously ending up in areas that make it difficult to be accessible for residents, especially the elderly and those with physical challenges.

“They understood and agreed to take steps to reduce the number of bikes in the community,” said Lt. Gary Lord of the Swampscott Police Department. “They also talked about finding a way to address ways to pick up the discarded bikes correctly.”

The meeting adjourned with the promise of a follow-up meeting within the next few weeks to tighten regulations that will help better coordinate the bike sharing programs. The town administrator also acknowledged how the shared bikes are taking up a lot of space down by the MBTA stations, which makes it harder for bike owners to park their wheels.

“This is a trial service, so it was expected to have kinks that would need to be worked out, but also they’re a mode of transportation we hope we can see more of,” said Fitzgerald. “We have to manage this in a certain way and we have commitment from Ant that they will take this constructive feedback and better manage some of these services.”

Ant Bicycle will cut back on the number of bikes in Swampscott as a sign of good faith, according to Gallagher. The company will also be taking the next two weeks to look at their data and put together a tailored plan for the town, which, it is hoped, would lessen the complaints while keeping up with the high demand for bikes.

“We are always trying to prevent and mitigate these types of situations,” said Gallagher. “The point of the meeting was to make sure our partnership is headed in the right direction … It was a lot of constructive feedback on how we can continue to improve as a company.”

Ant Bicycle isn’t the only dockless bike sharing program in the area, even though their green bikes are the ones most commonly seen around. Lynn also has partnerships with ofo, which launched in June, and LimeBike, which was approved by the committee only two weeks ago. Ryan McGrath, general manager of ofo, said there hasn’t been an abnormal amount of complaints regarding their yellow bikes, but they have had success minimizing the issues that were called in.

“Whenever we launch in a new area, it’s a new thing people have not experienced, and it’s a bit of a learning curve wherever we go,” said McGrath. “When we do hear about issues, we reach out to those folks.”

Bob Tucker, President of Friends of Lynn & Nahant Beach, has mixed feelings about the new bike sharing phenomenon. Whenever he drives around the city, he said he always sees bikes being left everywhere. He acknowledged they serve a good purpose, even offering a great avenue for people to get exercise, and he hopes the companies can figure out how to get more organized.

“There’s a number of bikes along the Swampscott boulevard and Lynn Shore Drive, mostly the green ones, and they do get a tremendous amount of use,” said Tucker. “The negative part is a lot of people can leave them where they want, so there’s a lot on the sidewalks and ground, which causes problems.”

State Rep. Daniel Cahill (D-Lynn) is an avid user of the shared bikes but acknowledges that it is the responsibility of the companies to collect data and use it to find better ways to relocate the discarded bikes. He believes the city council and Mayor Thomas M. McGee did a great job of using a trial period for the bike sharing companies, which allows room for growth on behalf of both the city and the companies.

“I think with any new technology there’s always a growing pain period,” said Cahill. “When I’m working in downtown I always utilize the bikes because it’s quicker to get around, one less car on the road, and one less parking space to find; but I understand the frustration from residents over the bikes being discarded everywhere.”

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