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The number of bike-share systems in the Boston area has plunged since 2018

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Dockless operations have been hit particularly hard

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

Two years ago, it looked like bike-shares would overwhelm the Boston area. Now, as 2020 begins, there are basically two systems left—and one operates only in the warmer months.

Meanwhile, Ofo, Ant, and Spin—all at one point either operating in parts of the region or planning to, have disappeared. And the once seemingly unstoppable roll of dockless bikes into the region— “Thousands of dockless bikes headed for Boston’s suburbs,” went a Globe headline in April 2018—has largely peaked and rolled right back.

Indeed, the largest and most prominent bike-share left is Bluebikes, which allows users to access its conventional bicycles the relatively old-fashioned way: via unlocking them from specially placed kiosks.

Bluebikes launched in mid-2011, and now operates more than 3,500 bikes from 325 kiosks in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, and Everett. Those municipalities own the system, Lyft operates it, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts sponsors it.

The second-largest bike-share left is one from private company Lime, which operates some 2,000 dockless, pedal-assisted electric bikes in 16 Boston-area towns and cities (none of them the Bluebikes cities). These dockless bikes—where riders unlock them for use via an app—are available outside of the winter.

After that, it’s a steep drop-off. There’s basically just Zagster with a handful of stations for its conventional bikes in Salem and Marlborough. Residents might encounter the odd green Ant bike, too, but they won’t work as they should.

That’s because the onetime Cambridge-based concern—which launched in early 2018 and which at its peak operated perhaps 1,000 dockless bikes in the region, mostly in Swampscott and Lynn—appears to have ceased operations. Ant no longer returns requests for information, and its website is down.

It’s just as well. Officials and residents had pushed back against the bikes’ presence on sidewalks and streets as well as in areas where they were not supposed to be left or picked up. That included the five municipalities, including Boston proper, that own Bluebikes. Indeed, tales soon arose of dockless bikes either impounded or tossed into waterways.

As for Ofo, the other major dockless bike-share that was supposed to storm the area, the Chinese company pulled back and then disappeared amid wider financial trouble, including so much debt that Ofo couldn’t pay the firm that supplied its bicycles.

Both Ofo and Ant have come and gone since spring 2018. Spin never really arrived. The startup was supposed to join Lime in providing dockless bikes to those several Boston-area cities and towns. It pivoted instead to electric scooters, which in early 2018 seemed poised to sweep major U.S. metros, including Boston.

That didn’t pan out, at least locally. State laws originally targeting mopeds have stymied the growth of e-scooters in the Boston region, and they remain few and far between (though that could change). Spin operates dozens in Salem, for instance.

The decline in the number of bike-share systems has not necessarily culled the ranks of the remaining ones. Both Bluebikes and Lime added bikes in 2019. Bluebikes grew the most, adding around 1,000 vehicles, and Lime grew by about 500.

Ridership boomed too. In early June, Bluebikes recorded more than 10,000 rides in a single day for the first time, a threshold it would cross on other days during the year. Meanwhile, Lime recorded more than 300,000 trips from April 2018 through September 2019.