Editorial: Ant bikes seemed like it would be a good idea

It started off as a fun and well-intended exercise and ended in frustration and lingering bad feelings.

After a six-month trial period, the plug is finally getting pulled on the failed Ant Bicycle and LimeBike experiment. The City Council ordered the bike share providers to remove their brightly-colored conveyances from the city by Nov. 1 or risk being billed for the cost of city crews to collect and remove the bikes before winter arrives with its slush and dirty streets.

What went wrong with an idea that, at first blush, sounded so right? City leaders embraced with all the promise that spring brings the notion of providing Lynn residents with expanded transportation opportunities and some plain, two-wheeled fun. The bike shares were viewed as a chance for people to pedal along Lynn Shore Drive, through downtown with its murals and restaurants and into the city’s varied neighborhoods.

According to Ant Bicycle, the bikes proved popular. They also proved to be an unsightly nuisance with riders leaving them on corners and street sides. They became over the course of the summer, easy-to-spot castoffs that sat in the same location for upwards of a week.

The council’s “pack-up-your-bikes-and-leave” attitude is not, in our view, overly harsh given the poor business model applied to the first bike share initiatives introduced in the city. The lack of a docking arrangement requiring the bikes to be returned to designated points made the bike share initiative a flawed one from the beginning.

Provided riders returned bikes to designated docks, the bikes would have made a more orderly and less chaotic debut in Lynn. John Gallagher, Ant Bicycle’s co-founder, did not sound like he had a firm grasp on his business model when he said its success depends on having enough people to pick up discarded bikes and improving the technological capability to track bikes so they can be collected in a more prompt manner.

Perhaps Mr. Gallagher should have ironed out those imperfections in his operation before unveiling his bicycles locally. It’s worth noting that the town of Swampscott is also considering bidding farewell to the Ant bikes for the same reasons Lynn elected officials are ready to say goodbye.

Next spring offers a new opportunity for the council to revisit its decision to send Ant Bicycle and LimeBike packing. It might make sense to reintroduce the bicycles on a much smaller scale under a supervised arrangement that includes docks for users to drop off bikes. Start small and build up is one of those axioms typically mouthed by parents and, in retrospect, it should have been applied to the well-intended but overly-ambitious and poorly-executed plan to introduce bike share in Lynn. Oh, well, live and learn.

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