Home News As Scooter Regulations Finally Land, E-Bikes Hit Atlanta Streets. Could They Be A Better Transit Solution?

As Scooter Regulations Finally Land, E-Bikes Hit Atlanta Streets. Could They Be A Better Transit Solution?

by Holly Beilin

On the same day as the passing of an ordinance addressing dockless electric vehicles by the Atlanta City Council, residents will see a new mode of transportation brought to city streets by alternative transportation giant Uber. Today, the company’s subsidiary JUMP has set dockless electric bicycles in Atlanta’s densest neighborhoods, largely clustered around Midtown and downtown.

Another dockless provider might seem marginal, but this actually marks the first addition of shared electric bikes to Atlanta. While Lime filed a bike-share permit application with city government last May, a Lime representative confirmed that there are currently no Lime e-bikes in Atlanta.

Chinese bike rental company Ofo put down a few hundred of its bikes in mid-2017, but pulled them only a month later in a central move to streamline operations. And Relay, the City of Atlanta-sanctioned bikeshare program, is neither dockless nor electric.

This makes JUMP bikes a differentiated offering in the market, according to Jen Shepherd, JUMP’s General Manager for the Southeast. Shepherd joined Uber on the Uber Eats team and transitioned to JUMP in 2017 to handle preparation for the impending launch. Atlanta is JUMP’s first Southeastern market. 

Uber acquired JUMP in April of 2017, back when the company only produced electric bikes. Now they also offer e-scooters to compete with the likes of Bird, Lime, and ride hailing rival Lyft.

It may seem like an odd move for a company predicated on people needing car rides to get around. But Uber has positioned the offering as part of their mission to reduce congestion in cities and complement alternative transportation commutes.

“The real mission that JUMP, in conjunction with Uber’s core of shared rides, is really helping to enable reducing route congestion and helping people reduce carbon emissions,” Shepherd tells Hypepotamus. In an analysis of early JUMP users published by Uber, the company refers to the bevy of options as a ‘multi-modality suite.’

The analysis looked at riders in San Francisco the first few months after the launch of JUMP in the city. It found that, while Uber car rides declined by about 10 percent, overall use of the company’s offerings (Uber rides plus JUMP trips added together) increased by 15 percent. The bikes were most commonly used at peak congestion times during the workday.

Shepherd says this early data is promising for Atlanta, a city with some of the worst congestion in the U.S. “We see the synergies with the car business,” she says.

Electric bikes also may avoid some of the tribulations that have plagued the launch of e-scooters. At the city council meeting, one resident called the scooters a “public menace.” Another bemoaned scooters littering her sidewalk and front yard, while a third mentioned safety hazards and the lack of helmet use.

With the passing of the new ordinance, scooter providers can be fined up to $1,000 a day for violations of rules. However, it is yet undetermined how that will be enforced and tracked, making it likely that violations will continue in the near future.

In fact, though JUMP does offer scooters in Atlanta and other markets, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told TechCrunch in a 2018 interview that the product is in an “odd spot” due to the lack of regulation.

Dockless bikes may not have the same growing pains.

Though sometimes flawed, Atlanta and other cities do have existing infrastructure in place for bike riders. Bike riders are already conditioned to stay on streets, rather than illegally riding on the sidewalk.

Shepherd says the JUMP team has had “some great productive conversations” with Atlanta officials regarding regulation and infrastructure. They have also established a partnership with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

Representatives of the Coalition spoke at the City Council meeting to urge increased education on bike safety. Safety concerns have been a common thread in the conversations amongst city officials and residents when considering dockless vehicles. Shepherd says the JUMP team is cognizant of this, and is going through a number of exercises to emphasize rider safety.

During the launch this week, JUMP representatives scattered throughout the city will be asking riders to sign safety pledges in exchange for a free helmet. Shepherd says the Uber and JUMP apps also contain in-app safety messaging that encourages helmet use, obeying the rules of the road and riding safely around pedestrians.

The JUMP bikes launching in Atlanta — a few hundred initially — will be the company’s newest, most technologically-advanced models. Features include a front phone mount for easy access to navigation, replaceable batteries to keep the bikes in use longer, and a cable lock to secure the bike to bike racks or street furniture. 

The electric boost powers riders up to 20 miles per hour. Though the new ordinance restricts dockless electric vehicles to 15 miles per hour, it applies to devices that can reach that speed on their own. Since the JUMP bike can only reach its top speed with a pedal-assist, this rule doesn’t apply.

To access JUMP bikes (and scooters), riders simply pull up the Uber app and scan the QR code on the device. Bikes cost $1 to start and 10 cents a minute. Uber is also offering reduced pricing to low-income users, as well as five free 15-minute rides per day for the three weeks following the launch.

And as to the next Southeastern city that will see JUMPs on the road? Shepherd says, “stay tuned.”

Photos provided by JUMP

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