British Columbia

New bike-sharing service rolling out in Lower Mainland

A new bike-sharing service is coming to the Lower Mainland, with U-bicycle Canada opening a Vancouver office on Tuesday.

Dockless U-bicycle system, currently operating in Victoria, is now coming to Vancouver

The "stationless bike-share" U-bicycles have been available in Victoria since last fall. (U-bicycle)

A new bike-sharing service is coming to the Lower Mainland, after U-bicycle Canada opened an office in Vancouver on Tuesday. 

Unlike other bike-sharing companies in the city, U-bicycles aren't paired with docking stations. This means they can be picked up or left in any legal parking spot because riders unlock the bikes with an app. 

The private company, co-founded in China, started out in Victoria last fall, where it distributed 160 lime green rental bikes.

Raviv Litman, the company's operations manager in Victoria, says U-bicycle is in conversation with municipalities across the Lower Mainland about putting its bikes on the streets. 

In addition to the new office in Vancouver, the company is looking to expand into cities including Burnaby, Coquitlam, Delta and Richmond.

"We're still in the planning phase," Litman said. 

A mobile phone can be used to release the bike's locking mechanism. (U-bicycle)

Bike sharing

The arrival of U-bicycle comes not long after the Mobi bike-share system was launched by the City of Vancouver in summer 2016.

The city provided $5 million for the launch and operation of Mobi for five years. U-bicycle operates on a private model and won't receive funding from any of the cities it operates in.

Scott Edwards, bike-share manager with the City of Vancouver, says there is a large demand for short-term bike rentals. 

"Bike sharing globally has been growing at an exponential rate for a number of years now," he said. "With Vancouver's sharing economy, it takes off very well."

By last fall, there were more than 1,200 Mobi bikes available at 125 stations around Vancouver. Plans are underway to expand the service to Commercial Drive and increase the number of bikes to 2,000 this summer. 

'Optimistic sign'

Not all bike-share services are as successful.

Last year, one of China's largest bike sharing start-ups, Bluegogo, expanded into San Francisco offering a GPS-enabled dockless bike system similar to U-bicycle's.  

After a few months, they pulled out because of financial difficulties and resistance from the city council.  

Litman said his company is still going strong in Victoria and will be adding another 150 bikes to the fleet there.

"We've heard a lot of positive feedback," he said. "We are already seeing the numbers that we're hoping for coming out of Victoria, and that's a very optimistic sign for expanding into other cities."

It's not been confirmed when the bikes will enter service in the Lower Mainland, or how many there will be.

The company eventually hopes to offer its service across North America.