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Micromobility in Boston: What’s available and where you can find it

Electric bikes, electric scooters, and bike-shares abound now in the Boston region

Boston Globe via Getty Images

Micromobility—that is, getting around for work or play in anything smaller than a car—is creeping into the Boston region.

Consider this: On January 1, 2018, there was one bike-share in the entire area—what’s now Bluebikes. And that was limited to only the handful of municipalities that owned it. Now there are thousands more bikes through both conventional and dockless bike-shares; and electric scooters are starting to roll in as are hundreds of electric bikes.

Here, then, is an ongoing guide to micromobility in the Boston area.


Conventional bike-shares

A bike-share kiosk with several bikes in a row attached. Shutterstock

These would be through Bluebikes. The region’s oldest bike-share launched in July 2011 with 610 bikes at 60 stations throughout Boston. It quickly expanded to Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline—and is headed to Everett in the spring of 2019 via nine new stations.

By the end of 2019, Bluebikes plans to have more than 3,000 bikes available at 300 stations.

The five municipalities own Blue Bikes. San Francisco-based Lyft operates the bike-share, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has a sponsorship with it (hence the name).

Bluebikes is a conventional bike-share, meaning that riders unlock the vehicles, including through an app, at stations—sometimes called kiosks—and then return them to either the one they unlocked them from or to a different portal.

Bluebikes then, by definition, can only be picked up and returned in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline (and Everett, as of the spring); but users can ride them in other municipalities.

Single Bluebike rides cost $2.50, and an annual membership costs $99. There are other fare options, including one for lower-income riders.

Dockless bike-shares

These would be via LimeBike and Ant.

LimeBikes are available in 15 cities and towns in the Boston region: Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Chelsea, Everett, Lexington, Malden, Melrose, Needham, Newton, Revere, Watertown, and Winthrop.

Following a handful of pilot programs, San Mateo, California-based LimeBike rolled out approximately 1,500 vehicles in these and a few other locales in April 2018 under an arrangement with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

As of spring 2019, there will be between 1,200 and 1,500 LimeBikes available in the aforementioned municipalities. Riders unlock them with apps wherever they might be found, as with other dockless bikes. They are only supposed to be unlocked and re-locked in the municipalities that formally host LimeBikes.

As for pricing, LimeBike suggests riders consult the company’s app to get exact amounts. There are discounts available for certain income levels.

An Ant bike with people walking behind it. Boston Globe via Getty Images

Ant Bicycle launched as a company in Cambridge in 2016, and rolled out its first dockless bikes in early 2018.

There are about 1,000 Ant bikes throughout the region, mostly in Lynn, Wellesley, Ipswich, and Swampscott—municipalities with which the company has formal arrangements—and on some private properties in Boston and Cambridge.

Ant also has bikes deployed through agreements with Boston University, M.I.T., and Harvard.

As with other dockless bikes, they are unlocked using a mobile app. The company has a “parking mode” app to recommend spots for riders to leave the bikes when done with them; and Ant encourages its users to park them where they’d normally park any bike.

And, as for pricing, riders should go through the Ant app for exact rates and deals.

E-bikes

Several rider-less e-bikes in a row. Shutterstock

In early April 2019, Lime announced that it was phasing out its pedal bikes in the Boston area in favor of battery-powered, pedal-assist electric bikes that can go as fast as 14.8 miles per hour.

The California-based operator had between 1,200 and 1,500 vehicles in the region at the time of the announcement. Eventually, all and more of those will end up as e-bikes.

The e-bikes do and will cost more than the pedal ones: $1 to start and 15 cents a minute vs. $1 for 30 minutes, period. Riders should consult the Lime app for more details.

E-scooters

Photo courtesy of Lime

As of mid-April 2019, electric battery-powered scooters are allowed in Massachusetts only in the Town of Brookline—and only there under a test that lasts through early November.

Operators Bird and Lime rolled out 100 e-bikes each in Brookline at the start of April. If the test goes relatively smoothly, additional Massachusetts municipalities could host the vehicles that are taking other parts of the U.S. by storm.

E-scooters are currently illegal under a state law that dates from the rise of the moped decades ago. Earlier attempts to introduce the vehicles in places such as Cambridge and Somerville failed.

Since, though, these and other cities—most notably Boston—have taken baby steps toward approving regulations that would allow e-scooters, and there is movement to legalize them at the state level. Stay tuned.