11 April 2018

What The Coast Guard Doesn't Like About Bike Share Programs

In an earlier post, I wrote about a legitimate complaint some people make about bike-share programs, the Uber-style programs in particular.  Because bikes in such systems can be located with a smart-phone app, users can leave bicycles wherever they are finished with riding them.

The problem is that in some instances, bikes are left literally wherever their riders stopped riding them.  This became a particular concern in Chinese cities, where streets and sidewalks are narrow and all manner of vehicles, from trucks to rickshaws, compete for space with cyclists and pedestrians.  Some streets and sidewalks became literally impassable, and police warned that the masses of abandoned bikes were keeping police, firefighters, medics and other responders from reaching emergency sites.

Here in the US, you can add the Coast Guard to the list of non-fans of bike share programs.

Why?, you ask.  Well, according to a recent report, bicycles--usually from share companies--are left on Washington State ferries.  When ferry crew members see a bicycle but can't find whoever was riding it, they have to send an emergency call to the Coast Guard which, in turn, has to start a rescue operation.  Since neither the Coast Guard nor the ferry operators can assume that the bike was simply abandoned, the operation is treated as a "person overboard" issue.

Cyclists at a Washington State Ferries terminal. Washington State Ferries photo.
Cyclists disembark from Washington State ferry.

Such missions, as it turns out, are expensive.  In one incident last week, it cost $17,000 to send out helicopters and other equipment as well as Coast Guard members to ensure that no passenger ended up in the water.  Such missions take time and, as with any nautical rescue operation, must cover a large expanse of waterway, as currents can pull or push a struggling swimmer many kilometers in any direction.

(I know a bit about such things because my father was a Coast Guard reservist for more than two decades.)

Now Captain Linda Sturgis, the Coast Guard commander for Puget Sound, is urging people to leave share bikes on shore and board as passengers.  That sounds reasonable enough, but, as it turns out, many commuters get to and from work by riding share bikes to and from the boats.  So, upon disembarking from the ferry, a commuter would have to find another share bike to complete his or her trip.  I have never used such a system, but I imagine that there will be time when a bike can't be located in a timely fashion, as we used to say at the office.

Now I have to wonder whether ferries here in New York--in particular the Staten Island and Wall Street ferries--are experiencing similar problems.

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