Metuchen will pilot dockless bike share program

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PHOTO COURTESY OF TODD PAGEL
Metuchen will pilot the use of LimeBike, a new dockless bike system.

METUCHEN — In an effort to reduce motor vehicle traffic, borough officials will soon pilot a dockless bike share program.

The Borough Council voted in favor of a resolution at a meeting on May 21 to enter a one-year pilot contract with LimeBike, a San Mateo, California-based tech mobility company, which will be at no cost to the borough.

LimeBike, which was launched in June 2017, aims to provide a sustainable solution to the first and last mile transportation problem, which Councilman Todd Pagel said the borough is currently experiencing.

The company operates bicycle sharing systems in several cities and college campuses across the United States, using a mobile app for reservations.

Pagel said LimeBike will provide as many as 150 bikes depending on the needs of the borough.

With dockless systems, bicycles can be parked within a defined district at a bike rack or along the sidewalk. Dockless bikes can be located and unlocked using a smartphone app.

The bikes, which can be adjusted per height and size of rider, can be used for anyone as young as 14 years old, as long as the teenager is with a parent or guardian. There is a basket on the bike, which can hold up to 30 pounds.

“When I joined the council in September 2017, one of my major platforms was reducing traffic in the borough,” Pagel said as he presented the LimeBike program at the meeting.

Pagel said statistics have shown increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic result in less cars on the roads.

And with the growing popularity of Metuchen and some 3,500 people riding the train in Metuchen a day, Pagel said he hopes the dockless bike share program will encourage the public to consider biking to the train, the downtown area, or wherever they need to go.

“With our location as the hole in the Edison donut of 130,000 people, we have seen an increase in car traffic,” he said. “The council has been working on a variety of solutions to reduce traffic in the borough. One way to reduce car traffic is to increase the use of bicycles for transportation.”

Pagel said some 3,500 people a day ride the train in Metuchen, which is about 22 percent of the borough’s population, and only a small percentage bike or walk to the station.

Isaac Kremer, executive director of the Metuchen Downtown Alliance, said he hopes the launch of LimeBike will attract more people downtown.

“People who otherwise might drive, or who are far enough away that they will not walk, now will have another option,” he said. “Increasingly we’re finding the most successful downtown areas are ones that encourage walkability and cycling.”

Kremer said Metuchen has made great strides in the last few years to encourage both.

“The addition for LimeBike puts Metuchen on the map as an innovator nationally and we’ll hopefully see benefits from this for years to come,” he said.

Pagel said prior to the bike share launch, there will be a number of community events to educate residents on how to properly use and park the bikes.

“We will start with a small amount of bikes and as demand grows, we will increase the quantity of bikes,” he said. “We can reduce the quantity of bikes at any time during the pilot.”

Pagel said in September, a Bike Share Task Force was formed of council members, multiple members of the Traffic and Transportation committee, the Metuchen Downtown Alliance, Bike-Walk Metuchen, the Environmental Commission, the Metuchen Chamber of Commerce, the Metuchen Arts Council and the Metuchen Shade Tree Commission to discuss finding the best dockless program for Metuchen.

“It was decided that piloting a dockless bike share program for a year would be a great start to reducing vehicular traffic in Metuchen, as well as providing a variety of other benefits,” he said.

A detailed Request for Proposal was sent out and after reviewing and evaluating the bids that came in on April 18, Pagel said the task force decided LimeBike seemed like the best fit.

“When we first met LimeBike, they knew about Metuchen, they knew our population and how many people commute,” he said.

Pagel said the company is interested in partnering with the borough’s committees and organizations in the borough to help promote local businesses.

“This was a big selling point for us,” he said.

During the pilot, LimeBike will collect and share the ridership data with the Bike Share Task Force, Pagel said, adding the data will be used to improve infrastructure in the borough, which may include new bike racks and bike lanes.

As part of the process, LimeBike will also offer promotional materials, helmets and bike safety demonstrations.

Councilwoman Allison Inserro said with three large employers surrounding Metuchen — Amazon, JFK Hospital and Raritan Center, all in Edison — the LimeBike program could be a great use if Edison were to get on board as well.

“You can get to [the locations] on the [Middlesex] Greenway,” she said.

Pagel said he has spoken to several council members in Edison about the program.

“Bikes do not have to stay in Metuchen,” he said. “An Edison person is allowed to take the bike to Trenton. What happens is the bike will be located by GPS and [LimeBike management] will get the bike from Trenton and get it back to Metuchen.”

A LimeBike user will use the LimeBike app to find bikes nearby using GPS. Once the bike is found, the user can scan any bike with his/her smartphone app to unlock and start a ride.

The bike can be parked and locked wherever a bike is allowed.

A LimeBike ride costs $1 per 30 minutes. For students, faculty and staff, the cost is 50 cents per 30 minutes.

Users can purchase LimePrime for $29.95 per month which includes $500 in ride credits. For students, faculty and staff, LimePrime costs $14.95 per month and includes $100 in ride credits.

LimeBike will also work with low-income residents or residents without a credit card or smartphone so everyone can take advantage of the program.

The company will hire one full-time and three part-time employees to manage the program.

LimeBike will also rent out space locally to house bikes that need to be fixed or redistributed.

Pagel said the many benefits of having a dockless bike share program are clear; however, there are some challenges.

“The biggest issue that has arisen with the bike share program in other municipalities is parking,” he said. “The fact that you do not have to park the bike at a dock is a huge positive. You can bike directly to your home or to a business and properly lock them there. However, this can sometimes lead to bikes being left in not-so-ideal places. LimeBike and the Bike Share Task Force will work together to promote proper parking to mitigate the issue.”

Pagel said LimeBike will balance bikes twice a day based on the data it collects.

“At 7 a.m. there may be 20 bikes at the train station because everyone is biking to the train station,” he said. “We don’t need [the bikes] there during day, we need them at the parks and for people to go to Whole Foods so [LimeBike management] will re-balance those and then when the rush hour commute comes in, the bikes will go back to the train station where riders can go back home.”

LimeBike will warn users who consistently do not follow proper parking rules. LimeBike could also suspend use if parking becomes an issue for an individual user. The company will reward riders who pick up or move poorly parked bikes.

The Bike Share Task Force will identify and delineate spaces around town for parking the bikes. Once there is biking data, LimeBike will work on building permanent parking areas for the bikes.

Mayor Jonathan Busch thanked Pagel for researching the program. He said he hadn’t owned a bike since he was 15 years old until recently.

“We have bikers in town, but we don’t have a lot of bikers,” he said. “One hundred fifty bikes personally seems a lot to me. I feel if you are interested in bikes, you have a bike. That is a concern of mine, of how do we create the biking culture?”

Pagel said nothing is perfect. If the program does not work out, officials will have to give LimeBike a 30-day notice to either remove the bikes or renegotiate how many bikes are needed in the borough.

“I’m not a big biker myself,” he said. “If my bike breaks, I don’t fix it for months at a time. I think [LimeBike] comes in not for big bike users, but [users who] will bike to Whole Foods, but don’t feel like lugging their old Huffy out of the shed. It makes it easy, that’s what these bikes reach.”

Metuchen joins Plainfield and Keyport in piloting LimeBike.

Contact Kathy Chang at [email protected].