The Oregonian reported Tuesday that about 450 new keypads are on their way to Biketown bikes in the coming months.
This will be music to the ears of many of you as we’ve heard numerous complaints about unresponsive keypads for months now. Unlike older kiosk-based systems, the “smart” Biketown bikes the keypads are built into the rear rack. Users must enter a PIN and/or a six-digit rental code to unlock a bike. With over two years of wear-and-tear, many of the keypads simply don’t work anymore. You press the button and either nothing happens or there’s a frustratingly long delay.
Just over a month ago, I ran into this problem when I tried to rent a bike to get home from downtown after a meeting. There weren’t many bikes available and I tried the keypads on two before I gave up. I eventually tracked down an e-scooter and got home.
The next morning I contacted Biketown’s operator Motivate Inc. and asked General Manager Dorothy Mitchell about the problem. Biketown Marketing Manager Tom Rousculp blamed the problem on their vendor, Jump Bikes (formerly Social Bicycles). He said they’d been, “experiencing connectivity issues, including a system-wide outage over the past week that resulted in a number of unresponsive bikes.”
Here’s more from The Oregonian:
“Biketown officials believe they have a solution to the keypad issue, and they say the city won’t have to foot the bill for the new parts. But the changes could take several months to implement and would initially improve only about half of the 1,000-bike fleet.
Maintenance staff now has access to about 450 sets of new keypads, and Biketown hopes to replace the entire fleet of keypads over the next several months. Crews already replaced 53 keypads on individual bikes and recently swapped out 60 others’ controllers, which function as the brains of the bike and include the keypad.
Dylan Rivera, Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman, said the city, bike operator Motivate, and bike maker Social Bicycles, have all been trying to find a solution as quickly as possible.
According to the city, the keypads’ cost is covered under the bike maker’s warranty. The first wave of replacements could take several months. Biketown could order more if they are needed, but Rivera said the city wasn’t sure how many keypads need to replaced.
Biketown’s contract with Motivate is up in July 2019, and Mitchell said its future bike rental contracts would likely have a different unlocking system.”
What happens next summer once the current contract is up is anyone’s guess at this point. But it’s very likely that we won’t see a big re-investment in the current system. Since Biketown launched in 2016, the industry has moved completely toward electric vehicles — both bikes and scooters.
The hottest bike share bikes at the moment are offered by Jump Bikes (now owned by Uber, which happens to be the corporate rival of Lyft, the company that recently bought Biketown operator Motivate). Jump’s system is 100% dockless e-bikes that are unlocked with an app, not a keypad.
I tracked down Jump’s CEO and Founder Ryan Rzepecki at the North American Bike Share Association Conference held in Portland earlier this month. Rzepecki was mostly tight-lipped about whether or not Portland was next on Jump’s list. “I can’t say a whole lot right now. We’re still talking to PBOT,” he said. “At this stage, we’d like to bring this technology to Portland, but we’re still talking to PBOT to figure out what it would look like.”
“It’s complicated,” Rzepecki added, likely referring to the maze of corporate interests and contractual obligations Portland will have to make it through before signing a new contract next summer.
Whatever happens to Biketown, the future does not look bright for non-electrified options. “Light electric mobility” is the new wave, at least according to Rzepecki. “Regular pedal bikes never showed the type of growth and traction as you’re seeing with electric vehicles,” he said when I asked him about the new kid on the sharing block.
“The amount of people interested in riding e-bikes or e-scooters is much higher than folks riding a pedal bike because this is mostly about transportation and not recreation or exercise. It’s about getting where you’re going quickly, conveniently, without breaking a sweat. And electric mobility offers that in a way that pedal bikes don’t.”
That might be the case, but in the meantime, we need our old-fashioned pedal bikes to have functioning equipment. Stay tuned for more reporting on the rollout of the new Biketown keypads.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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R.I.P. BIKETOWN 2016-2019
“I guess we should have waited a few months”
Well they arguably could have seen the writing on the wall and recognized that several startups were poised to launch very similar services that didn’t require any of the city resources that PBOT has sunk intp Biketown. Looks like it was about a year between Biketown’s launch and the appearance of Lime bikes in Seattle… seems too close for the Biketown stakeholders not to have known about what was on the horizon. e-scooters just add another big nail in the coffin.
there were three bike share services in seattle and now there is only one. lime could also disappear in a year or two.
a better option than relying on oligopolistic venture capital is to fund public bike and scooter share services (preferably by taxing automobile use).
“to fund public bike and scooter share services”
That is your takeaway?
I’d love to cut Nike out of the action, but this seems like a terrible idea: Saddling taxpayers with these predictable and spiralling costs.
better than saddling humanity with predictable and ecocidal costs of our status quo…
I don’t see those as our (only) two choices, but appreciate if you do.
Did Ofo pull out of Seattle too? I think it’s a good point that it is way too early to judge the long term viability of the new private dockless services. RIght now they’re flush with capital as they battle over market share, but I suspect that operationally they are bleeding red ink, while simultaneously failing to fully maintain their fleet. Time will tell how these work in the long term. I hope they succeed, and don’t fail a few years after having killed off the publicly supported systems like Biketown, Nice Ride and Citybike.
Ofo pulled out of Seattle and of some other cities. Spin is pulling out of Seattle bikeshare to focus on escooters. Lime remains in the market for now.
Uber and Lyft are applying to enter. I think Lime will eventually pull out. Uber and Lyft will make their bikeshare an extension of their car ride service/app. Being as both companies are deeply money-losing and bikeshare is a peripheral business, if they can’t drive a large volume of bikeshare users to their car ride services, they will probably leave the market. Bikeshare alone is not profitable enough to bother with, by the standards of the venture capital investors who fund both companies. But bikeshare as a funnel of revenue to the car ride business, that’s worth doing.
Especially now that electric bikes are available. Electric bikes are indeed a game-changer for the rideshare/bikeshare companies. Both Uber and Lfyt (and Lime, while it is around) will likely replace the leg-powered sharebike fleet with electric sharebikes.
The appeal of electric bikes is that they eliminate the “active” part of “active transportation”, and people are lazy. Laziness is something that can be profitably exploited.
Imagine you’re Uber. If you can get people dependent on motorized travel and allergic to physical effort/sweat, you can reduce the appeal of bikes that require physical activity – not just sharebikes, but also personal bikes. Wouldn’t it be nice to get people to dump their “obsolete” human-powered bicycles and become totally dependent on your electric sharebikes? Because to use your electric sharebikes, they have to use your app that steers them to your car ride service and harvests their personal, location, and travel data. Wouldn’t it also be nice to give cities an excuse to stop investing in transit? The city saves money and you make money, its a win-win.
Add escooters and we might be able to breed a whole generation of city-dwellers who won’t even travel several blocks without paying you money. Nirvana?
Hi. You’re right saying that market trend is moving from active mobility (push bikes) to less active mobility like e-bike sharing or absolutly inactive mobility like e-scooter sharing. I just want to emphasise on the fact that riding an “electric assisted bike” still maintains a physical effort. Try it, you’ll confirm. At the same time, riding an e-bike is indeed capturing someone that was often not riding a push bike. Moreover, e-bike practise is both addictive (try it, you’ll adopt it) and increase tremendously trip distance and trip frequency. You seldom hesitate to ride your e-bike if compared with your push bike. E-bikes which are very much more developped in China and in Europe than northern America were seen at the beginning as the bicycles of the oldest and/or laziest persons has totaly changed its image. It is now very much trendy, efficient, environmentaly frendly and also very good for smooth effort and public health !
Smoove, my company, has the largest e-bike sharing fleet in the world in the parisian Vélib project; 7.500 e-bikes with charging stations. Connecting to the grid all the 1.400 stations and 50.000 charging docks was indeed complicated at the project start and created some issues. However, getting charging infrastructure is the only way of maintaining a long term balanced e-bike operation if compared with swapping batteries or even worst removing e-bikes and charging them in a warehouse which is time/money not effective.
E-bikes do have great future in urban mobility and reintroduce the consistancy of charging stations versus freefloating.
Lime is the only one left, but they are all over the place up there. Seem to be popular with the urban campers, as well.
Not just Seattle. Dallas went from 5 systems to just 2. DC went from 5 to 1 (only Jump is left as a dockless provider).
And Jump is backed by Uber. What happens when Uber decides that their bike experiment isnt so great?
Meanwhile, dock companies like B-cycle, Bixi (PBSC), and nextbike have a decade+ of proven success.
It’s foolish to throw out a proven model to chase the latest and greatest, without having any idea if it has lasting power. Reminds me of people who talk about ending public bus service and relying on private companies. Yeah, we tried that in the 1930s. It wasnt great.
Hi. New mobility business model are indeed inovative but very much not secured. Level of risk is high and cash burning companies are numerous. Everybody has seen the fast growing push bike freefloating boom and where we are now which many companies bankrupcing and even worldwide leaders pulling out from large project in USA and also in Europe. Mobike is loosing money, Ofo as well and apparently not paying some of its suppliers and its staff wages. Well ! In northern America, the market moved from public tenders with some public taxes invested by the cities in such projects to licensing model where the companies have to pay the city while redistribution services become compulsory, adding cost. How this can ever be financially sustainable ?! Even cash burning companies are pulling out. If cities really want to get clean mobility out in their streets on long run, they’ll have to contribute.
“If cities really want to get clean mobility out in their streets on long run, they’ll have to contribute.”
No they don’t. At least not in these highly compromised, inefficient ways. All they need to do is tax cars, make it more expensive to frivolously motor about, and the rest will take care of itself. Bikes have existed for more than a century. No need to reinvent wheels.
I have mostly given up on the Biketown bikes. The main issues being the keypads (although it’s worth noting that the keypads have always been dodgy since day one) and the fact that it’s so hard to even find a bike nowadays since so many of the stations are empty. After using dock systems in other cities like NYC, I am convinced that the “smart” bike system just doesn’t work as well as a system with fixed stations. It’s much easier to integrate with public transport when you know where the stations will be. Biketown has gotten significantly less useful after PBOT switched to a dockless model, and expanding the service area without adding additional bikes has seriously thinned out the system. Additionally, requiring the use of an app lowers the systems utility for me.
I plan on sticking to my own personal bikes since the shared systems seem to be consistently getting worse over time. There is still plenty to be said about owning your own vehicles: you don’t need to rely on a buggy app, internet connection, or a private company deciding to reduce or remove service without warning (something a public agency like PBOT or TriMet cannot do). When your transportation network relies on faceless investors’ whims, it cannot survive long-term.
Don’t listen to Mr. Rzepecki’s words about what the public wants – he has a vested interest in the e-bike and e-scooter systems. Bike share systems can work very well in environments where they are well supported by government agencies. Biketown’s downfall is entirely due on mis-management by our city and not the public’s changing needs.
Yes, the keypads have been flaky since the day the bikes rolled out. Failing to register keypresses, and registering multiple digits for a single press, have been a problem as long as these bikes have been on the streets. It’s gotten worse, for sure, but only by a matter of degree. I’ve finally started bringing my Biketown card with me, which I’d never even used until recently, instead of trying to enter my member number on the keypad.
Biketown does NOT require an app.
I completely disagree with your assessment of where bike share is going. Of course the CEO of the electric bike guys will say its all about electric.
Heres the thing though. Electric bikes have a higher up front cost. Without docks, electric bikes have a very high labor/maintenance cost because every bike needs to be tracked down by a person and have the battery replaced every 2-3 days with a fully charged one. This year, Paris switched to a new operator which promised 25% of the fleet would be electric bikes and they would charge when docked. 9 months later, the system is falling apart because they can’t get the charging working right.
“A broken escalator is just stairs”
Likewise, an e-bike without power can be ridden, but walking up a broken escalator sucks, and pedaling a dead e-bike REALLY sucks.
Who pays those higher costs? Now, its the VC folks who are happy to lose millions in order to DISRUPT. But if, say, Jump bikes are the only game in town, then what?
Are people happy to pay $3-$4 per ride rather than $100 a year? And if some people are, what does that mean about equity for those who can’t pay that?
Bike share is fantastic because it is a low-cost addition to our transportation network.
E-bikes are a blast, yes, but are they efficient and sustainable?
E-bikes make sense to rent, because all the ones that folks are buying privately right now will be obsolete and nearly worthless in a few years. Dead batteries that cost too much to replace, old battery technology that costs too much too much to retrofit, a mess of non-interchangeable proprietary components and little effort to standardize? It’s a bad investment… but perfectly in line with the bike industry’s obsession with selling you next year’s model.
When we’re done pretending to be car-free and put our e-bikes away for the winter, don’t forget to pray to the battery gods and ask them to please let our e-bikes last another few months.
Oh, I’m sure the city will be happy to tax the people supporting themselves to provide free transportation to those who aren’t willing to.
Agreed, the bikeshare companies say electric is where things are going because that’s where the profit is.
A 1 hour ride on a non-electric LimeBike costs $2.00. A 1 hour ride on an electric LimeBike (as on an electric Lime scooter) costs $8.50. The math isn’t hard to do here.
And they stick the “independent contractors” who recharge their devices with the electric bill. Classic #wreckshare
You hit the nail on the head. I haven’t bothered with any of the fancy e-scooters as the cost of a ride just seems ridiculous compared to the value I get from a Trimet daily pass. I would be more tempted to use one if I could get across town for under a dollar.
As a PSU student I get 90min/day with BIKETOWN and have been using it to commute between Goose Hollow, CUPA, and the Engineering Building. For such a short ride the bikes work well. Had I further to go I would just bring my personal bike on the Max, or ride over the West Hills.
E-Bike share is exciting for getting people out of cars, BUT I hope human powered bike share bikes continue to be available. I enjoy the bonus of being active during travel.
I think we are beginning to realize that these systems are complex and expensive to maintain. Shockingly short product life was already mentioned in the context of the e-scooters. I’ll be curious to watch how this shakes out.
I do often wonder what was wrong with the kind of bike that doesn’t need teams of software engineers, leveraged buyouts, juicers, lithium mines, years of PBOT staff time, sponsorship by multinational corporations, etc.
Reliability, cost, and product life of regular bikes are hard to match.
I know! I wish they would design a “Smart U-Lock” and put it around a Schwinn 3-speed with a Wald basket and generator hub. That would be so much nicer to ride! I get why they are tempted to move to e-bikes, the biketown bikes are total dogs! It must be hard to compete with scooters. I think I will build up a beater/commuter and use that when biketown goes kaput.
I think you are missing the point.
E-scooter companies also hide, or try to hide, these costs, the shirt product life, the obsolescence. These are all costs that someone will bear. While the electronics are seductive, their use in systems like this generate costs and constraints that we would do well to keep track of.
Maybe YOU are missing the point. I think custom making bikes with integrated electronics is expensive and unnecessary, especially when the bike rides so poorly compared to many off-the shelf bikes. A smart U-lock would be a lot less custom manufacturing and less electronics, but still allow bike share to function. The “smart locks” would allow the bikes to be located and unlocked which seems useful for a bike share system. I agree that the costs of the electronics is hidden, and I think we would be smart to minimize those costs. How do propose running a City-wide bikeshare without electronic/digital components?
I guess I did misread what you were saying.
I thought: “That would be so much nicer to ride!” was meant sarcastically.
My apologies. We seem to be on the same page.
What’s to keep someone from unlocking the “smart lock” then just tossing it aside and keeping the bike? Without electronic tracking built into the bike itself, my fear is that the bikes would gradually disappear.
I agree that a simpler, lighter bike would be much more enjoyable to ride, but some people are selfish jerks, and that’s why we can’t have nice things.
Congrats, you’ve just described a Nike Bike.
Reliability, cost, and product life of regular bikes are hard to match…
…Unless they are painted Yellow, then you lose Reliability and Product Life.
Most lithium is produced by evaporation, not mining.
Frank Schwinn had a dark green Paramount 3-speed upright.
He rode it all around Chicago.
BP and other cheerleaders of dockless and e-sharebikes will be responsible for Biketown’s demise if that sad day comes.
Not long ago, we had a good bikeshare system that was working well and expanding in a thoughtful, measured way. Our city had worked for this for a long time. The bikes were high quality and sturdy. We were proud of our bikeshare.
Then this blog and others got enamoured with the shiny new toy. Dockless! Electric! Thousands and thousands of dockless e-sharebikes, appearing on every corner, through the magic of tech venture capital! Throw out those clunky old Biketown bikes! We don’t want to work at pedaling or get any exercise at all! Cross the “active” out of “active transportation”! Promise us anything! Bring in Lime and Ofo, Spin and the rest, throw the doors wide open to the next new thing! Force Biketown to go full dockless, to expand faster than it was ready to, leaving orange bikes scattered far and wide. Don’t be patient and see how it works out for other cities before upending our own applecart. We have to jump on every bandwagon!
It was obvious what was going to happen. Most of the new bikeshare companies will go bust. The e-sharebikes will prove too expensive to recharge and maintain. Bikes will get stranded far from high usage areas with dead batteries. Rebalancing will be very costly. Thousands of dockless bikes will be dumped in landfills. Cities will end up with one monopoly e-sharebike company, if that. Prices will go up, way up. Service levels will go down. Customers will find that they, not the sharebikes, are the product. We talked about all this in the past year, but too many were and are willing to uncritically swallow the techbro marketing lines.
We are repeating the mistake with the escooters. Venture capital funded companies burning cash for marketshare, promising every possible benefit except actual physical exercise.
10 thumbs up although I doubt you will change the owners mind….
Hi John. This is the comment of the week! I appreciate your contributions here.
But I want to respond.
Yes I have a more positive outlook on dockless and e-stuff than you do and I have shared that on the site. But BP has also been one of the loudest boosters of Biketown as well. So laying blame for any of its failings at BP’s feet is silly IMO.
IMO we don’t have time to sit on our hands and pat ourselves on the back. We need to end the car abuse epidemic ASAP and we should demand as many alternatives as possible. Let’s try a lot of things and see which ones work best. Biketown in its current form is great! But it’s also rife with shortcomings… It’s underfunded, doesn’t reach many Portlanders, doesn’t compete with driving, etc…
Your characterization of “this blog” is inaccurate. Again. Yes I have a positive tone about e-scooters and dockless bikes… But I share that without trashing Biketown and I certainly have never wanted to, “Cross the “active” out of “active transportation””
This is great opinion John. I’d suggest you focus your comments on this type of meaty stuff so we can agree and disagree about it and have a debate… without making personal jabs at “this blog” and blaming other people for stuff you clearly don’t personally like.
I disagree with you about the future BTW. The impetus to move beyond a car-centric system will radically impact how we fund and plan for the new mobility revolution. Right now I agree with you we are too over-the-barrel with these VC-funded companies (I’m very skeptical of corporations in general BTW, despite your incorrect assumptions about me). But imagine what will happen when cities/regions start funding and planning for micromobility and bike share with the same rigor and respect we currently have for public transit. Because that’s what the future is IMO. Public transit isn’t just buses and rail. Cities need to put their money where their constituents are — and that’s in dockless bikes and scooters and whatever else comes along next.
Your response did not refute one thing that John wrote except you did not like him attacking your blog….
His criticism of the venture capital toys that are deposited like garbage around the city is completely valid. You seem to imply there is no problem with it, hey lets just fling crap around and see what works?
A really poor way of planning and executing anything and the e-scooter debacle shows why.
The public is ready to throw them all in the river.
Don’t worry – when the economy tanks two years from now and takes the massive pool of investment cash with it, the e-scooters will disappear form the streets just as fast as they appeared.
Biketown’s demise will be from a lackluster offering. The bikes are heavy, clunky and inconvenient. I bike commute most days and can’t imagine ever wanting to ride one of the orange bikes. Slap some flat bars and a Copenhagen wheel on there and I may reconsider.
Protip: If you download the Biketown app. Use it to locate and reserve. That way when you unlock the bike, you only need to enter your 4-digit PIN.
Same with the Biketown card. Does every member get those, or only those of us who were founding members?
You can also link other RFID cards (like Trimet Hop cards) to your Biketown account, and then you don’t have to carry another card.
But, yeah, getting the keyboards to read the PIN is still problematic.
Ed, Have you linked your BikeTown account to your TriMet Hop Card? I can’t figure out how this is possible. One of the big flaws of bike sharing has been lack of coordination with the local transit system. In more recent launches often times the transit agency is also a bikeshare sponsor/provider, which seems to make a lot of sense.
Yeah, I’ve set up the linkage, and it works for me.
Here’s a link with instructions: https://help.socialbicycles.com/hc/en-us/articles/208785446-How-to-use-other-smart-cards-RFID-as-your-SoBi-access-card-Android-only-
You need an Android phone with NFC enabled to read the card and get the link set up, but that’s a one time thing, so I would imagine iphone users could borrow a friend’s.
And just to clarify, this just lets you use the Hop card to identify yourself to the bike; there’s no financial link between your Biketown and Hop accounts.
Thanks Ed, I was able to link my Hop card at a bike, it was pretty simple. I do wish the HopCards had BikeTown on them (like they have CTRAN & StreetCar) and there were any sort of collaboration with TriMet. Neither BikeTown, nor Trimet are doing each other a favor by not partnering more closely together. I’ve used BikeTown for 965 trips now and can count on both hands the number of times I’ve given up on a bike because of keypad problems. In some cases it has required more patience than I’d prefer. I found reserving a bike using the app to be helpful, but now with the Hop Card link it is even easier. The greater problem has been actually seeing what is on the keypad, especially in the sunlight.
You still have to enter your PIN though. Less numbers, sure, but if the keypad is broken, this method doesn’t really help much. I’ve been using the tap card method since day one and I’ve still had plenty of issues trying to enter my PIN.
that is truly helpful, thanks!
Pro tip #2 for dealing with the finicky keypad:
Make the last two numbers of your PIN the same so any lag in the buttons won’t cause you to enter the wrong numbers. Entering the wrong last digit in your PIN results in a prompt to re-enter your full PIN again. My original PIN used 4 unique numbers but the button ‘lag-to- display’ resulted in unpredictable extra(or missing) numbers requiring PIN re-entry 2, 3 or 4 more times. For example, 3611 allows you to just keep pressing ‘1’ until the bike unlocks. Of course following this logic would make 1111 easier, but that’s probably as advisable as using PASSWORD as a password. Long live the heavy orange monsters!
I think that if we imagine a more human-scale city full of “20-minute neighborhoods”, served well by transit and with true 8-80 cycling/waking infrastructure, the need for an e-assist is greatly diminished for the vast majority of people. While I welcome e-assists/e-bikes as another option (we own an e-assist cargo bike) I get a little nervous when I hear someone like RR malign pedal bikes as a sweat inducing, recreational activity. The danger in this line of thinking is in a world of e-assists where hills are flattened, no one ever produced a single drop of sweat and riding longer distances becomes competitive w/ transit and even driving, the importance of reversing decades of car centric planning and adapting the built environment to better suit the needs of walkability/proximity/density and by extension the kind of casual utility cycling seen in the great cycling cities suddenly becomes less compelling.
Well, after attempting to rent two broken Lime scooters last night, Biketown was the only option. If you use the app to reserve the bike, then you only need to punch in your password. Option only works for Biketown members though.
The previous two tries renting a scooter? One appeared on the app, but it looked like it was in someone’s garage or yard. And the other? After I rented the scooter only to find out the motor didn’t work. The e-Scooters aren’t perfect and are annoying in their own way.