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Swampscott may stamp out Ant Bicycles in the wake of complaints

A woman leaves Swampscott Public Library and walks past ANT Bicycles parked out front.
A woman leaves Swampscott Public Library and walks past ANT Bicycles parked out front. (File Photo | Spenser R. Hasak)

SWAMPSCOTT — In the wake of complaints of green bicycles being strewn haphazardly across Swampscott, town officials are contemplating pulling out of their pilot partnership with Ant Bicycle.

Town officials met with John Gallagher, co-founder of Ant Bicycle, last month to discuss the best way to mitigate the number of abandoned bikes.

Since that meeting, Ant Bicycle has removed 18 bikes from Swampscott. In July, there were 62 bikes in operation and now that number has been whittled down to 44, according to Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said town officials will be sitting down with Ant Bicycle again in the next few weeks to go over the town’s short- and long-term plans with it comes to dockless bikes. A decision will be made on whether the town will continue its relationship with Ant next month.

“I don’t want to be dismissive that a bike share program (wouldn’t) work in Swampscott,” said Fitzgerald. “I really think that this is a program that can work, but I want to make sure we get it right. It’s important that we sit down with whoever we partner with and go through how we manage and place these bikes.”

According to Ant Bicycle data shared with The Item by Fitzgerald, the number of bikes on the roadway increased each month from March to July — from 5 to 62 — but there has been elevated concern that some of the bikes were not well-cared for.

Bikes have been abandoned and discarded, and some have even ended up in the ocean.

But Fitzgerald said those concerns also have to be balanced with the positive of increased ridership, which reflects increased exercise and an additional mode of transportation. Ridership jumped from 99 rides in April to 264 in May, and then stayed high with 255 and 276 rides in June and July respectively.

But he said officials also have to be mindful of the budget, as there’s a cost associated with Department of Public Works employees picking up the bikes.

Gallagher said after meeting with Swampscott officials, Ant reduced the number of bikes in town and kept a closer eye on Swampscott to make sure that bikes are closer to where they see rides originating from, which is often the waterfront and MBTA station. He said the company is hoping their relationship with Swampscott continues, acknowledging that there’s an evaluation currently taking place.

“The relationship’s been positive and feedback is essential for any relationship to grow and improve,” Gallagher said. “We’re not going to get everything perfect. We definitely appreciate the way that Swampscott has been willing to work with us.”

Fitzgerald said he would like to see Ant hold its users more accountable, such as if the bikes wind up in places that are inappropriate. He cited the company’s website, which says there will be a fine for riders who don’t properly store the bikes, but when he asked how many times that had been issued, it was clear to him they had not properly fulfilled that responsibility.

“This is just a trial and frankly, we could end this tomorrow,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it’s important to not see this as a black and white issue. I think there’s some clear benefits to having more modes of transportation in a town as densely settled as Swampscott.

“It’s important to have a standard of care throughout to make sure these bikes don’t become a negative for Swampscott and detract from some of the aesthetics of Swampscott.”

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