Durham County

There are thousands of bike share rides in Durham. Are scooters coming next?

Spin bikes, pictured here, is a bike share company that has bicycles in Durham.
Spin bikes, pictured here, is a bike share company that has bicycles in Durham.

Dockless bike share bikes in Durham are getting a lot of use, and may soon be joined by electric scooters.

Dockless bike share companies caught Durham by surprise last fall, when companies showed up with hundreds of bicycles that could be rented by the ride. The city issued permits in November to three companies, whose bikes were recognized by their colors — green LimeBike, orange Spin and yellow Ofo bikes. Ofo bikes are leaving Durham, as the company is pulling its bikes from cities all over the United States.

Transportation Planner Bryan Poole told the Durham City Council on Thursday how much and how often bike share bikes in Durham have been ridden.

By the numbers:

Bike rides over eight months: 60,000

Number of bikes: Limited to 500 per company. Between 1,000 and 1,400 were on the road.

Reported accidents: 0

Of 1,150 people surveyed in July in person and online, 14 percent want the dockless bike share programs to end. Those who like them praised their flexibility, affordability and convenience. Of the people surveyed, 44 percent said they would be interested in electric scooters.

Scooters are coming

Scooters are on the way. There are already electric scooters in Raleigh and Charlotte. Poole said that while electric bikes are the next thing in bike shares, electric scooters are more likely to be seen on Durham streets first.

The scooters have a smaller footprint than bikes, he said, and are rounded up at 8 p.m. each night, recharged and set back out in the morning, unlike bike shares.

Scooters are classified by the state as mopeds, which means riders must wear helmets. Their speed limit is 15 miles per hour, Poole said.

Fred Lamar, a senior city attorney, said scooters don’t have to have a license plate but they have to be registered and have documentation on the vehicle. If operated at night, they need to have a light. Lamar said his reading of state law also suggests they need a rearview mirror.

“There are a number of hurdles these companies are going to have to overcome if operating on the streets,” he said. “If not in the streets, they wouldn’t necessary fall to state law on mopeds ... but in Durham, we have ordinances that do not allow motorize vehicles or bicycles on the sidewalk.”

He said the Bird scooters were dropped in Raleigh without consulting that city. Poole said Bird has also contacted Durham, but so far has not brought any scooters here.

Mayor Steve Schewel said that nobody seems to be using helmets on the bike shares.

“That’s a challenge with bike shares,” Poole said. “Bike shares are used for spontaneous trips, so don’t carry your helmet with you.” He said LimeBike has held helmet giveaways since coming to Durham.

The bikes are rented and unlocked by using a smartphone app. Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton wanted to know about cash-centric residents who don’t have smartphones or credit cards. Poole said it’s possible to buy bike share cards and then unlock the bikes with a code on the card, but that still has to be texted or called in to the company.

What’s next

The City Council didn’t take any action on the presentation, just listened and made comments. The permits issued last fall were for only one year. In September, the city will open the permitting process and grant permits in October and November.

The city’s transportation department recommended changes to the bike share ordinance:

Broaden ordinance/permit definition to allow electric-assist bicycles and scooters.

Develop ability to view parked units in real time, and report compliance problems.

Increase amount of dedicated parking, especially in space constrained areas.

Improve ordinance/permit language to increase compliance, cap total number of units to ensure management.

Increase fees to more appropriately reflect the cost of staff oversight. The current fee is $10 per bike.

Council member Charlie Reece said that the dockless bike share program has “exceeded my wildest dreams.” He has ridden LimeBikes a dozen times and said the experience is pretty good.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan
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