Neighbors can’t stop talking about the rental bikes. Love them, hate them or somewhere in between, most don’t know how this new industry works or what their employees do all day. Why are there always bikes in the same places? Who cleans them? How long has that bike been there?
The Advocate went on a ride-along with LimeBike this spring to see a day in the life of a field operations specialist. Kellye Tallent played host on a morning spent retrieving, fixing and setting up rental bikes around White Rock Lake in a white van about the size of an Amazon delivery vehicle.
Tallent’s coverage area is around White Rock Lake, one of the most popular spots for rental bikes in Dallas, and there is always plenty of work to do. She begins many days at the Spillway and visits more than a dozen spots around the lake to ensure enough bikes are in place.
Though she has a set route, she has to be flexible. She is constantly responding to messages from dispatch, which let her know when someone reports a bike that needs to be picked up. Regional General Manager Anthony Fleo says they respond to notifications about bikes within 35 minutes.
Tallent can see where the bikes are on her app. If there are bikes blocking sidewalks or left at area restaurants or neighborhoods, she “rebalances” them to bus stops and out-of-the-way park spaces. “If the bikes are in the same spots, we are doing our job,” Tallent says.
On an average day at the lake, she visits the spillway, filter building, Lawther, T&P Hill, the dog park, Boy Scout Hill, Big Thicket, the Bathhouse Cultural Center, Sunset Bay and other spots to make sure there are enough bikes and that they aren’t laying down, blocking paths or in trees. If a bike has been idle for seven days, it is repositioned or taken off the market. LimeBike has taken thousands of bikes off Dallas streets over the past few months as administrators figure out the bikes’ most efficient levels.
As Tallent traveled to the Santa Fe Trail access at Arboretum Village on Gaston, she found a bike with a kickstand that needed adjusting and fixed it on the spot. She tests the brakes, locks and solar-powered lights in the field as well. At one point, she skillfully rode one bike while holding on to another when she moved a couple bikes to the sidewalk along Gaston Avenue near the intersection with Tucker.
There are certain homes that always have bikes outside them. Tallent has learned where she needs to visit to move bikes back into places where they are more likely to be found. She even pulls bikes from White Rock Lake with a grappling hook when she needs to.
In one interesting moment, the map showed a rental bike inside Richardson Bike Mart on Garland Road. Tallent’s inquiry in the bike shop received a chilly denial. She did a couple laps around the outside of the building looking for it. She can make a bike ring a tune to locate it. This is a tool she sometimes employs if a bike is inside a house or on a property that she can’t access. As she wandered in the alley behind the shop, she heard the bike’s chime nearby. She followed her ears to find the bike inside an open patio next to the Richardson Bike Mart maintenance area. She retrieved it without further incident.
On East Grand, she found a bike that had been vandalized, hit with rocks or other objects in order to break the locks. The bike had gashes along the lock, but the vandals hadn’t succeeded in breaking it.
Tallent has faced more harrowing moments than that. Once while retrieving a bike, she had a gun pulled on her and she quickly retreated. “These bikes aren’t worth dying for,” she says.
She finds herself climbing trees, tromping through shin-deep mud, running across busy roads with no crosswalks and climbing below bridges in order to retrieve bikes.
In all, Tallent says there are fewer than 300 LimeBikes around White Rock Lake. She spends 40 hours a week doing her best to make the bikes look good, but she can’t always keep up with improperly parked or vandalized bikes, something neighbors are eager to point out on social media.
If neighbors are noticing fewer LimeBikes around the lake, it is because there are fewer. “We’ve decreased the total number of bikes and managed our fleet across the city in order to best serve Dallas. We look forward to being responsive to the needs of our riders and the whole community as spring and summer come along” says LimeBike Dallas General Manager.
After cruising up and down Garland, Grand and Gaston, it was time for the ride-along to end. Kellye headed out on the rest of her route, which takes about eight hours. Shifts run around the clock. After she is done, another van will head out into our city to find, fix and reposition more bicycles.