Dockless bike sharing arrives in San Diego on Thursday

  • LimeBike and Ofo will begin operating dockless bike sharing networks in San Diego on Thursday.
  • The moves come after City Attorney Mara Elliott gave the legal OK.
  • Environmentalists say dockless bike sharing could sharply increase use of bikes for commuting.

Fresh off a legal victory, dockless bike sharing will become available for the first time in the city of San Diego on Thursday.
LimeBike, which has been renting bikes in National City and Imperial Beach since last year, and Ofo will begin operating in much larger San Diego thanks to a legal opinion issued last month by City Attorney Mara Elliott.

San Diego has an exclusive deal through 2023 with bike-sharing provider DecoBike, which operates under an older business model under which customers must rent bikes from docking stations and return them there.

But Elliott says San Diego can allow another bike sharing company like LimeBike to start operating, as long as the city’s involvement doesn’t go beyond issuing approvals in its regulatory capacity.

Environmentalists and bicycling advocates call dockless bikes a superior option to bikes that consumers must rent and return to docking stations, because dockless bikes are cheaper to rent and allow people to go where they want to go.

They predict dockless bikes, whose rear wheels lock in place when consumers are done using them, will do a better job of helping San Diego meet the goals of increased bike and transit use required in the city’s ambitious climate action plan.

LimeBike also plans to roll out its electric assist bikes and scooters in San Diego, which would become the only city to have all three of the company’s “mobility” options.

“LimeBike is leading the way in smart mobility solutions for the nation, and we’re excited to serve San Diego residents and visitors with a sustainable, accessible and affordable transportation option,” Zack Bartlett, LimeBike general manager for San Diego, said in a news release.

Through the end of February, customers can use the code “SDLIMEBIKE5” for a $5 ride credit..

Ofo is offering free rides through the end of February.

The city’s docked network has struggled to meet ridership goals since it was launched in early 2015, and backlash from community leaders prompted the elimination of 15 stations near the city’s beaches in September.

City officials and DecoBike recently made a deal with Discover Card to bolster the docked sharing network with more bikes, new stations and technology upgrades to boost convenience.

Dockless bikes have prompted complaints in some communities, particularly from merchants, that careless users leave the bikes strewn about and damage the aesthetics of commercial areas.

San Diego spokeswoman Katie Keach said on Wednesday that city officials welcome LimeBike.

“More options lead to fewer vehicle miles and less pollution in line with the goals of the city’s landmark climate action plan,” she said. “We fully expect them to be good neighbors and respectful of public spaces.” (619) 269-8906 Twitter:@UTDavidGarrick