Why Pittsburgh’s bikeshare docks went missing all of a sudden

Healthy Ride 2.0 means new docks — but no dock-blocking.

Dude where's my dock?

Dude where's my dock?

Courtesy Healthy Ride
Sarah Anne Hughes

In the grand scheme of neighborhood listserv postings, this one wasn’t too alarmist. No exclamation marks. No dog poop drama. But still, a perceived problem.

“The rental bikes are just sitting in a line. Not locked up. The securing posts are gone.”

The person writing on a private Facebook group for residents of the Mexican War Streets and Allegheny City Central wasn’t wrong. Healthy Ride bikes on the North Side haven’t been secured in a traditional bikeshare dock for weeks now — for a reason.

Pittsburgh’s bikeshare is in the midst of launching a 2.0 update, which will feature new docks and other upgrades that Healthy Ride’s staff says will make the system more user-friendly.

Executive Director David White has been with Healthy Ride from the beginning. It launched in 2015 and now has 500 bikes and 50 stations. This year, there are plans to expand with 15 more, to-be-announced stations.

Sarah Anne Hughes / The Incline

White said customers will see a “noticeable improvement” when the new docks are in place later this summer. It took about a year to select the new hardware, White said, and Pittsburgh will be the first system in the U.S. to use it. Crews are in the process of removing the existing docks from all 50 stations; they should all be gone by the end of July.

“The changes will be easily, noticeably better,” he said.

In the interim, bikes can be rented and returned using the mounted cable lock: take it out to rent, put it back in to return. The cable locks are an existing (now upgraded) feature that allows users to make stops and to return a bike at a full station. That problem — called dock-blocking — is an issue with systems in cities like D.C. and New York, where riders may have to go from station to station to find a dock that isn’t full.

The 2.0 docks will allow users to put the cable lock through a post, rather than requiring the use of a kickstand to keep the bike upright. But riders will still be allowed to leave a bike at a full station.

“We’re really deliberately removing the docks in order to demonstrate these changes across the whole system to the customers, so that when we install the new equipment, they’ll be well-aware that it’s something new,” White said. “The fear was that if we just put new equipment in and said, ‘OK, from now on you have to use these cable locks,’ a lot of people would still just be pushing it in and walking away.”

The new hardware won’t be the only change this year. The system is rolling out an updated logo design on the bikes and is migrating payment processing to a local company. And in news that will be really exciting to transit nerds, White said Healthy Ride will launch a pilot with Port Authority later this year to allow riders to tap their ConnectCards on a bike and get free minutes.

“We’ll be one of the first cities in the country to integrate the user experience for transit and bikeshare,” he said, adding that more details should be announced in the coming weeks.

White already thinks Pittsburgh’s system is one of the best in the country (natch), because of its flexibility. Riders can either use the PIN pad on the back of the bike to start and end rides, or use the kiosk. That’s not going to change. Neither is the app, or the fact that you don’t need a cellphone at all to use the system.

“We have the best of both worlds,” White said, adding that Pittsburgh has a “reliable, convenient” station network, “but also a flexible system that allows you to walk right up, take a bike … lock it up temporarily and really make it work for you.”