A Dallas city official confirmed that staff will propose some of the first regulations on bike share companies in just a matter of weeks.
Until now, the city has until intentionally left the industry unregulated. For that reason, the industry ballooned. Dallas now has the biggest bike share system in North America at around 20,000 bikes.
Maurice Clark is one of Ofo’s ‘rebalance techs’ trying to bring a balance to a process some have deemed chaotic.
“It’s a great service,” Clark said. “And we try to keep it inviting, keep it visible, make it inviting for the customers to want to use us.”
Ofo, one of the largest bike share companies in Dallas, invited a FOX 4 along to see how its staff of around 50 try to keep order among its bike share fleet.
Staff members are set up in zones. Part of the job is patrolling and looking for downed bikes. They reorganize and scan for damage, but they also use rider information to place bikes where they might be needed ahead of time.
Not everyone has been happy since the bikes starting showing up over the summer last year. The city intentionally left them unregulated to let the market sort itself out. It's provided plenty of options for riders.
“I like it because it’s exercise and you can sightsee at the same time,” said bike share user Ashley Adams. “I don't know. It’s fun.”
But it also provided a lot of mess. Some have turned to vandalism.
“We've had situations where bikes have been tossed in creeks, things of that nature. Set on fire,” Clark explained. “Some of the growing pains in Dallas have been more extreme.”
Ofo Dallas General Manager Everett Weiler says the company has learned a lot since it launched in 2017.
“When I came in, we were working a typical 9 to 5 shift,” he said. “Obviously, that doesn't bode well for what we were seeing in the market.”
Ofo says its operation is now almost 24/7. It and other bike share companies are now working with the city of Dallas on figuring out what regulations might be needed to keep everyone happy.
Ofo has been cautious when discussing regulations in the past.
“We do welcome regulations. We support regulations that help protect the public’s safety,” Weiler said. “But we would caution against regulations that inhibit innovation.”
And while the Chinese-based company is happy to show off its crews that keep its bikes organized, it's secretive about other parts of its operation. It did not allow FOX 4 cameras inside its warehouse.
And unlike some other bike share companies, Ofo refuses to say how many bikes it has and whether it is still adding them.
“So we launched with 1000 bikes, and we have increased the number of bikes based on the demand that we're seeing,” Weiler said.
In fact, Weiler gave essentially the same canned answer when asked about bike numbers at least 10 times.
But the new style of company is still learning and growing. In doing so, it’s bringing local workers along for the ride.
“Anything that I've ever done, I've tried to feel good about,” Clark said. “What's the point of getting up and going to work if you can't feel good about your work?”
In just a matter of weeks, transportation staff will propose an ordinance with bike share regulations. That includes rules on where they can be parked, but also franchise fees that the companies would be charged.
The city hopes to use the money generated from those fees to beef up bike infrastructure, including adding more bike lanes.