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Boston-area bike-sharing appears to be careening toward regional cooperation

Flareup over a Cambridge-based dockless system highlights need for coordination

Simone Hogan/Shutterstock

A recent flareup over a dockless bike-share highlights the challenges the region faces in regulating and promoting such programs—challenges that will likely demand regional cooperation sooner rather than later.

The flareup involves a Cambridge startup called Ant Bicycle. Its dockless bikes—which users unlock with an app—can be left anywhere, though they’re not welcome in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville, which have an exclusive deal with the more traditional bike-share system Blue Bikes (formerly Hubway), wherein users return the bikes to special kiosks about the towns.

Boston has been impounding the Ant bikes, and Somerville and Cambridge are warning the company to stay off its streets.

Such clashes are likely to become more commonplace as more bike-shares, especially dockless ones, debut in the wider region.

It’s not necessarily that the forces behind the shares are bent on circumventing existing contracts or regulations. It’s that bike-sharing has become so darn popular locally that users probably don’t look at the brand, only the mode.

Hence such milestones as California startups LimeBike and Spin introducing about 2,000 dockless bikes in 15 municipalities this year, including in Arlington, Medford, and Watertown—but not in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline, which have that exclusive agreement with Blue Bikes (which the municipalities own).

The potential for overlap is infinite in our densely packed patchwork of dozens of towns and municipalities. Much as the region, with state oversight, came to grips with collectively regulating its mass transit (and its waste, for that matter), it looks as if the Boston area will have to get together on bike-shares.