Free bikes you can park (nearly) anywhere prove wildly popular in Portland


These users would usually been fined $2 for parking here. It’s been fun to see so many Biketown bikes parked all over town.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland’s experiment with free Biketown rides and parking fee waiver have led to record usage.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation just announced that people have taken 30,238 trips on the system so far this month — a 120 percent increase over the same time last year.

And Biketown broke a new one-day record on Saturday, May 12th with 3,591 rides (the old record of 2,990 rides was on July 30, 2016).

The official, stated reason for the free promotion was National Bike Month (it’s also Bike More Challenge here in Portland); but it’s clear that PBOT wants (needs) to test the waters of a “dockless” system. Dockless bike and electric scooter share systems are transforming how people get around because of they’re more simple to use, more affordable, and easier to access than more traditional, kiosk-based systems. PBOT likes to say that Biketown is already dockless because all the rental software and tech is on the bikes and kiosks aren’t needed; but the parking restrictions and relatively small service area are both very limiting factors.

Also of note is that private firms like Jump, Lime, and others are salivating at the potential of the Portland market for their dockless products. (Unconfirmed word on the street is that PBOT is finalizing a permit process for dockless e-scooter share which should be ready by the end of June.

Whether the free rides or the lack of a $2 fine for parking outside of designated parking zones was the attraction, Portlanders have responded well to more Biketown. Jessica Engelman shared via Twitter today that as an annuam member the free rides didn’t influence her usage much. “But not having to pay $2 to park outside of stations certainly did.” Engelman is using the system 275 percent more so far this year compared to last year.

Keep in mind that 1,000 bikes spread out over our existing service area is a very, very small system compared to global best practices. To truly reap the benefits of shared bikes, we need thousands more of them. And, as this experiments proves, they need to be as affordable and accessible as possible.

How has the free ride and parking policy changes impacted you?

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.

BikePortland needs your support.