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Have you come across unlocked bicycles propped up in random locations in your city or town? You may think the bright-colored bikes were left by mistake, but they may actually be a part of a dockless bike-sharing network.

Companies such as ofo, Ant, Lime Bike, and Spin have released thousands of bikes into the suburbs of Boston. While each service offers different perks, they all function in a similar way. You download the app tied to that particular bike company, enter your credit card information and pay a few dollars per hour, depending on which service you use. When you finish your ride, you park your bike at your destination and lock it back up with your smartphone.

The popularity of these bikes is rising, in part, from the fact that there is no need to ensure that these bikes always end up at a fixed location. A commuter can take one of these bikes to work without having to find a nearby docking station to leave it at.

Although dockless bike-sharing presents a convenient alternative to other sharing services, it can also cause problems with the municipalities where they operate. Boston has already started impounding Ant bikes left within its city limits, where the company Blue Bikes has the exclusive right to operate until 2022. Users of these services should be sure to note where they can and cannot leave dockless bikes. Most of these websites prohibit users from leaving bicycles on private property or in places where they interfere with a path or sidewalk.

Before you sign up for a bike-sharing service, make sure that you read the terms and conditions or user agreement to determine if you or the company will be held liable for any fines or penalties from using or leaving the bike somewhere you shouldn’t. Some user agreement prohibit users from carrying a backpack or briefcase or using their phone while riding. You may also be restricted to the type of riding you can do (ie: riding on paved streets vs going biking in the mountains).

For specific information regarding a fixed or dockless bike, contact the company. For information on bicycle safety, be sure to check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s vehicular and customized wheelchair Lemon Laws and Arbitration Programs, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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