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Thousands of dockless bikes headed for Boston’s suburbs

Two dockless LimeBike bicycles shared the sidewalk with other docked bikes in Washington, D.C. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press/File

A lot more bikes are coming to the streets — and the sidewalks — of Greater Boston.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council on Friday announced a new regional bike-share system, separate from the Hubway rental network, that will bring thousands of bikes to 15 Boston suburbs.

Two companies, LimeBike and Spin, will operate the new system. LimeBike already operates in Malden, and both companies are in several US cities.

Their systems differ from the Hubway and more traditional bike-share systems because they don’t need to be locked at a fixed location. Instead, riders use a smartphone app to find a bike on a map, to pay for their rides, and to lock and unlock the vehicles.


Trips across the Boston area will cost $1 for the first 30 minutes. Some of the bikes will be equipped with technology to “make cycling uphill and into headwinds less challenging,” according to the MAPC, a regional planning agency.

By this summer, LimeBike and Spin plan to put 2,000 bikes on the roads of Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Needham, Newton, Revere, Waltham, Watertown, and Winthrop.

Notably absent from that list are Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville — the four communities that use the Hubway system. Their agreement with the private company that operates Hubway bars other bike-share systems.

The Hubway municipalities have all but admitted they can’t really stop dockless riders from crossing their borders, but MAPC director Marc Draisen said the companies involved in the new regional venture will be tasked with quickly collecting bikes if they do.

“We’re not fools. We know some people probably will, but they’re not supposed to” go into the Hubway communities, he said. “It will be the responsibility of the companies to get them.”

The dockless systems started popping up in Boston last year, when the Chinese company Ofo put some of its yellow bikes in Boston suburbs including Revere, Chelsea, and Worcester. LimeBike’s green fleet followed soon after.


Ofo is not part of the new regional system, and the company did not respond to questions about whether it would continue to operate near Boston. LimeBike and Spin said they bid to lead the regional system because they prefer to work directly with government officials.

Born overseas, dockless bike rentals have suddenly taken hold in US cities, highlighted by news this week that Uber had acquired its own dockless bike-share system.

The bikes have also created new urban challenges, with reports from Chelsea to China of abandoned bikes blocking sidewalks and other public space.

Draisen said one of the reasons for establishing a regional system was to put clear rules in place for managing these problems. LimeBike and Spin will be responsible for monitoring whether their bikes are blocking sidewalks or roads, as well as spreading the bikes across the communities each day. Additionally, the communities have the right to create designated parking spaces in their borders, though Draisen said few are planning to do so.

Hubway, meanwhile, is set for a major expansion of 100 new stations and more than 1,000 more bikes by the end of 2019. It will also soon be reenamed Blue Bikes, as part of a sponsorship deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The MAPC also helped launch Hubway back in 2011, and had hoped it would expand beyond Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. But Draisen said the dockless system allows these communities to have bike-sharing without paying for the bikes and stations, or their operations, like the Hubway towns do.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.