When Citibike launched in 2013, some were critical of the docking stations being planted across the city. Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal, for example, said the docking stations had left New York’s “best neighborhoods” absolutely “begrimed by these blazing-blue Citi Bank bikes.”
Now, there is a new micromobility player in town: JOCO. The company, which claims to be “the world’s leading platform for shared mobility services,” partnered with shared mobility technology provider Vulog to introduce a unique docking scheme for e-bikes in New York City.
What makes the Rabinowitzes of the world so angry is the loss of parking spaces for the e-bike docking stations. The Vulog system is different: “Unlike traditional micromobility, JOCO is the first shared operator to launch with a network of stations on private property and out of the public right-of-way.” This includes the likes of hotels, offices, and apartment building garages.
According to public affairs and mobility strategy firm Electric Avenue:
“Vulog’s platform will power a fleet of premium shared e-bikes launching with 30 stations in Manhattan and soon to grow to more than 100 stations across New York…The service will complement CitiBike, allowing New Yorkers to access a network of top-quality Acton Nexus e-bikes via Vulog’s white-labeled app. E-bikes will be picked up and returned to JOCO stations located in office buildings, hotels, apartment buildings, and more.”
Melinda Hanson, the co-founder of Electric Avenue, tells Treehugger the use of private property for the docking stations enables a quick launch without endless public meetings and approvals, and lets building owners offer a valuable amenity, getting about 10 bikes in one parking space.
The bikes charge while in the docking station so they are always ready to go, unlike e-bikes in bike-share systems that are often charged by swapping batteries. She says it is a high-quality bike; the Acton Nexus website describes them as having “26-inch wheels, and an aircraft-grade aluminum body, with enough power to go 65+ mile range and a max speed of 35+ mph.”
An immediate worry was that JOCO wouldn’t complement CitiBike but would compete with it, as often happens when a new operator moves in (see UBER). But a study by the Steer Group, originally prepared for Uber, showed otherwise. The study reports: “Across the 5 boroughs of New York City, of the 26.4 million trips made daily, about 10.3 million trips are potentially switchable to shared e-bike based. Our analysis suggests that 1 million daily trips in New York City would switch to a shared e-bike.”
There’s lots of room for more e-bikes. This was confirmed by urban cycling expert Doug Gordon.
“My gut reaction is that more competition in the bike-share world is good, especially if it comes with the added benefit of activating dormant private spaces and repurposing spots in parking garages,” says Gordon. “As you’re well aware, there’s been a nearly insatiable desire for e-bikes this year so I also think giving New Yorkers various models beyond the Citi Bike e-bikes could be a great way for bike-curious folks to test the waters before investing in their own e-bike.”
He adds: “I also think the fact that these will not be strewn about on sidewalks and will instead have dedicated space on private property is a good way to address the very legitimate accessibility concerns that accompany the launch of new dockless e-bike and e-scooter programs.”
A worry with bike-share is that the network is too small and there are not enough places to park or that they are too far apart. I expressed concern that 100 stations are not much of a network, but Hanson told Treehugger: “I’d be skeptical too, but there is so much demand that it will grow quickly.”
Monica Wejman, managing director of Vulog, is also confident that it will work.
“The unprecedented events of the past year remind us that urban centers rely on connectivity, and replacing personally-owned vehicles with sustainable mobility makes our cities more livable and resilient,” Wejman tells Treehugger. “With e-bike use booming and so much remaining potential, we are confident JOCO will be a success in New York and provide a model for scaling shared micromobility in partnership with local businesses.”
We keep saying that the key to the e-bike revolution is having decent bikes, safe places to ride, and secure places to park. The Vulog/JOCO bikes appear to have two of these bases covered. As for the third, Gordon gets the last word.
“Of course, my second-level reaction is that while I firmly believe that adding more bikes to cities is always a good thing,” says Gordon. “An even better thing would be if cities added more high-quality infrastructure to accommodate all these new mobility options. Our bike lanes are getting crowded, and it would be great if politicians could outpace the private sector to truly keep up with the hunger for options beyond cars.”