Enhancing equitable service level: Which can address better, dockless or dock-based Bikeshare systems?

Dockless bikeshare systems show potential for replacing traditional dock-based systems, primarily by offering greater flexibility for bike returns. However, many cities in the US currently regulate the maximum number of bikes a dockless system can deploy due to bicycle management issues. Despite inventory management challenges, dockless systems offer two main advantages over dock-based systems: a lower (sometimes zero) membership fee, and being free-range (or, at least free-range within designated service areas). Moreover, these two advantages may help to solve existing access barriers for disadvantaged populations. To date, much of the research on micro-mobility options has focused on addressing equity issues in dock-based systems. We have limited knowledge of the extent to which dockless systems can help mitigate barriers to bikeshare for disadvantaged populations. Using San Francisco as a case study, because the city has both dock-based and dockless systems running concurrently, we quantify bikeshare service levels for communities of concern (CoCs) by analyzing the spatial distribution of service areas, available bikes and bike idle times, trip data, and rebalancing among dock-based and dockless systems. We find that dockless systems can provide greater availability of bikes for CoCs than for other communities, attracting more trip demand in these communities because of a larger service area and frequent bike rebalancing practices. More importantly, we notice that the existence of electric bikes helps mitigate the bikeshare usage gap between CoCs and other tracts. Our results provide policy insights to local municipalities on how to properly regulate dockless bikeshare systems to improve equity.