Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn council tells bikes to take a hike

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

LYNN — Dockless bikes will be pulled out of Lynn by November, because the City Council has seen enough of them being scattered haphazardly across the city.

The City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to end the dockless bike sharing program with Ant Bicycle after a four-month trial period, which ran from June to September.

Ant was ordered to remove their bikes from Lynn by Nov. 1. The council will revisit the possibility of restarting dockless bike sharing programs in March, citing a desire to get the bikes out of the city for the winter, so they weren’t being left in snow banks and impeding plowing.

If bikes aren’t removed by then, the company would be billed additional costs the city would incur for the Department of Public Works removing them. James Lamanna, the city’s attorney, said that cost would probably be in the form of overtime since the city is short-staffed.

“I was disappointed in the whole thing,” said Ward 7 City Councilor Jay Walsh. “The bikes are everywhere. I don’t see where it’s working.”

Walsh said the dockless bikes were causing headaches, because people are dumping bikes on sidewalks and streets and the city doesn’t have the resources to collect them. He said he’d only be comfortable keeping the bikes if the company had a staff member available to remove them all the time when they’re left behind.

“If you don’t have the staffing commitment to get bikes off the street, I’m not comfortable moving forward,” Walsh said.

City Councilor-at-Large Brian Field said he’s been getting a lot of complaints about the bikes being everywhere and the bike sharing company needs to have a better business model in the spring if the city is to consider restarting the program.

Field said the bikes strewn everywhere and the vandalism to them looks trashy. He said the bikes are supposed to be collected after two days at the latest, when they’re no longer in use, but that hasn’t been adhered to. In some instances, bikes are being left for weeks at a time.

The city is not paying Ant to have the bikes in the city, and is not profiting from the bike sharing program either. Users can rent a bike through an app — people pay to unlock the bike through the app and then lock it again when they’re done with it.

John Gallagher, co-founder of Ant Bicycle, said there were 10,000 rides taken in Lynn through their four-month trial period, with 300 bikes in use at their peak. When they started in Lynn, Ant only had about 50 bikes in use, and has between 100 to 150 now.

Ant Bicycle, a Cambridge-based company which started partnering with Massachusetts municipalities last year, has seen its share of growing pains. The bikes are meant to provide an alternate form of transportation and increased exercise for users.

In nearby Swampscott, town officials are also considering pulling Ant bikes out of town, citing the same concerns with bikes being abandoned and discarded, with some even ending up in the ocean. The town is in the midst of a pilot program with the company.

Gallagher said the most active areas for ridership in Lynn have been along Lynn Shore Drive and the MBTA station downtown. There have been heavy amounts of vandalism and theft with the bikes, which has impacted ridership.

“We want to revisit the idea and the concept in the spring of next year,” Gallagher said. “We’d like to be around of course. We obviously would have loved the opportunity to continue to operate, but we also understand the concerns of cities as far as snow removal and making sure the streets and sidewalks are prepared for that.”

As far as cleaning up bikes better in the future, Gallagher said that comes down to two aspects of their business model, which is having the staffing capability to have someone come into the town to remove the bikes, and improving the tracking so they’re able to improve the timing of sending someone into the city to do the removal.

He’s optimistic the program will be reinstated, saying it’s more of an ongoing conversation with the city.

“The city is obviously wanting to see it operating as smoothly as possible and perhaps the initial pilot program, it didn’t meet all of their expectations, and I think they’re willing to maybe put it on the shelf for the winter where they don’t expect to see a whole lot of bikes being ridden anyway, and then come back to it when the riding season comes back around in the spring,” Gallagher said.

 

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