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Pedal power: Bike-sharing program on a roll in The Woodlands

August 8, 2018

After more than seven months of operation, officials with The Woodlands Township say use of the dockless bicycle sharing program Mobike is going well and has met expectations.

Nick Wolda, president of Visit The Woodlands Texas, said township officials are happy with the Mobike service in the community and he added the township is at the moment keen to keep the arrangement between the township and the private, China-based company.

“From our perspective, outside of a few bikes in crazy places, (Mobikes) have been very popular with residents and visitors to the Town Center,” Wolda said in an email.

The shareable bicycles, which are equipped with GPS tracking devices and an auto-locking mechanism to prevent theft or misuse, first began appearing around the township about a week before Christmas in 2017. The bicycles were officially unveiled by officials from the township and Mobike in a ceremony in January when ridership numbers and app downloads began being tracked.

James Liao, the operations head for Mobike USA, said the company has about 100 bicycles in The Woodlands, although he declined to provide a specific number because he did not want to provide information about the operation to potential competitors. Mobike has a small warehouse type facility in the township, however Liao refused to provide the location or number of employees at the facility, again citing company privacy concerns.

“The Woodlands has been great,” Liao said of the first six months of the program. “It has been amazing. We want to promote mobility for people. We’ve seen amazing ridership.”

According to ridership numbers provided by The Woodlands, the bikes have been used at a more frequent rate since January, with drops in ridership in only February and April. Overall, since Jan. 1, the Mobike app has been downloaded more than 7,200 times and bikes have been used for a total of more than 10,500 rides.

Wolda and Liao both said there have been very few problems or issues with the shareable bicycles Mobike operates, but each acknowledged there are a few challenges to deal with in light of the nature of the bikes, which can be unlocked and ridden anywhere by a user.

The bikes have been left in some unusual spots, Wolda said, notably around the parking lot at The Woodlands Mall. But overall, he said the bikes have been enjoyed by residents and visitors.

“Mobike is responsible for keeping bikes coordinated,” Wolda added. “They own them, they maintain them. It’s a private operator, so the township has very little time in operations.”

Liao said the group of employees based in the Mobike warehouse facility in the township keep close tabs on where each bicycle is via the GPS tracker attached to each bicycle. If a bike ends up somewhere unusual, employees retrieve it and return it to a high-traffic area such as Town Center or Hughes Landing. The staff is also responsible for repairs to any bikes that may be damaged or vandalized.

“If it (a bike) ends up being somewhere it shouldn’t, we go get it. We also look at the GPS locations to make sure it isn’t in some egregious place,” Liao said. Common places where Mobike officials hope to see the bikes include parks, shopping centers or stores, restaurants or event venues like the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, he added.

“(Bikes) tend to generally congregate at points of interest,” Liao added. “That means the population is using the bikes.”

While there have been few incidents of damaged bikes or vandalism, which has been an issue for bike-sharing companies in other cities like Dallas, Liao said things have gone well maintenance-wise with the fleet in The Woodlands.

“Anything could happen with a bike, there is a learning curve to using the bike,” Liao added. “There have been no big problems. So far, the bikes have been durable.”

The future of the bikes in the township appears positive, as Wolda said the township has “No plans to remove the operation at this time.”

Liao said despite challenges face by bike-sharing companies, Mobike is committed to The Woodlands for the remainder of this year and as long as the community is still viable for the service. However, despite the success, there are no plans for adding more bikes to the fleet.

“We don’t want to oversaturate the area,” Liao added.

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