Dockless bikeshare is coming
I think it’s only a matter of time before this happens here. While i have some heavy criticism of these systems, there are also some benefits, ie our current dock system takes a reallllllllllly long time to expand, and it’s expensive to do so. dockless can bring bike share to new neighborhoods in an instant. However, it seems that the customer service, dedication to a permanent system, working closely with cities/transit agencies, rebalancing, and quality bicycles has been lacking with the dockless companies.
They are also more expensive for daily users, at least in Pittsburgh. We’re in a unique spot here in that we were one of the first bike share systems in the states with “brains on the bike,” (as opposed to just on the kiosk), so we could feasibly turn our existing system to dockless, or dock-lite, where they could, say turn every bike rack in the city or say turn a neighborhood into a “dock.”
Some of the cities that have approved dockless, are starting to regret not requiring the bikes to be able to be locked to a fixed object, like a sign or bike rack.
Anyway, it’s interesting and opens up a ton of possibility and problems, including upending our existing system.
Here’s an article that outlines some of the practical things that these systems need to figure out.
As one of the comments points out, “Cars park illegally all the time and no one is saying that they should be banned.”
Several (if not all) of the companies in DC had trial periods that made all rides free until the beginning of October. It will be interesting to see if the complaints settle down now that one has to provide credit card information and be charged for riding.
I was skeptical of standard bikeshare at first, too, but actually now that I’m in DC I find that I use it more than I do my own bikes….
Depends on the company; each has a different arrangement negotiated. Spin and Lime I think are DC only; Mobike just announced they’ve got an agreement with Silver Spring as well.
(The fourth, Jump, is a little different; they require being locked to something, but I think also have a specific section of the city they’re restricted to.)
My understanding is that riders who leave a bike outside the permitted area—or, like the ones in the story Erok posted, on the Mall—are subject to fees on the order of $1–200, which would be charged to the card on file on top of the regular usage fee.
some companies may also be experimenting with a snitching system, where you can report bikes that are left in bad places, and the previous renter gets a penalty of some kind.
here’s another article laying out some of the positives and negatives:
One interesting line, since these companies aren’t just making money off of renting the bikes, rather from the data that’s mined and sold, “in coming years, experts believe the companies will equip bikes with cameras and additional sensors to collect valuable data that will be sold to advertisers.”
Ofo putting 400 bikes in DC, looking to expand to 10,000.
Also: “Ofo began the station-less bike-share concept as a student project at Peking University in Beijing in 2014. Now the company, valued at $3 billion, operates in 180 cities and 13 countries.”
One thing that’s becoming clear is dockless bikeshare is a more successful business model than docked. Businesses are competing to introduce dockless bikeshare into cities, while docked bikeshare needs subsidy. In Seattle, it cost only $1 to rent a bike, and you’d see them around the city. It seems like the way to go for Pittsburgh. No more fighting to add a new docking station to you neighborhood. It just appears.
I had some doubts about this approach: it seems too much like the “free bikes for everyone” model that people tried (you get a bunch of bikes, paint them a distinctive color, and distribute them in a city for free. The problem is, people either appropriate (and repaint) the bikes for their own use, or destroy them, or don’t maintain them. So you end up with a lot of bike junk) a while ago. And it sounds like something like that is happening in some Chinese cities, where they have piles of bikes they have to get rid of. But it appears that cities here are working out reasonable rules for dockless bikeshare, and it’s working. Great! Let’s do it!
One thing that’s becoming clear is dockless bikeshare is a more successful business model than docked. Businesses are competing to introduce dockless bikeshare into cities, while docked bikeshare needs subsidy.
The dockless companies are much more heavily subsidized than the station based systems, just by venture capital instead of foundation or grant funding. None have achieved profitability. At this point as they fight for market penetration, they are not trying to.
The service they provide is less capital intensive than a station based system, but operationally their model is much less efficient than a station based system. Where a station based operator can visit 100 stations and service all 1000 of their bikes, a dockless operator will need to go to 1000 places to perform the same amount of service, and those places will be constantly shifting. Unlike Uber or Lyft, these companies actually own the capital assets and will be responsible for maintaining them.
The companies are all very young, and their lifecycle costs are probably much closer to traditional station based systems. While the upfront cost of the bikes they use is much lower than the cost per bike in older systems, they are not designed to be regularly maintained. Current operators like BIXI have had their original fleet of bikes on the streets for 9 years with regular maintenance and are not yet ready to be retired, whereas the dockless bikes are designed to be replaced every 2-3 years. By the time they have replaced the bike four or five times they could have purchased a sturdier bike with features like full size seat posts, multiple gears, lights, etc… and given it a tuneup every year.
When the VC funding dries up these companies will have need to have developed other revenue streams in products like advertising or personal data mining in order to keep the cost per ride low. The model also depends on offloading the operational costs of collecting damaged bikes and keeping rights of way clear to the local government, which has allowed the model to work well in china. I don’t think U.S. cities will be as eager to turn their public works crews into defacto bikeshare operators, and so these companies will probably look for other ways to reduce operational costs in order to survive in the states. Mobike, one of the most well funded stationless bikeshare companies has an exciting invention to help with this- bike share stations: https://mobike.com/global/blog/post/smart-parking
Regardless of whether the business model makes any sense, more bikes in more places and more investment in cycling in general is a great thing. In 2 years after all of this shakes out, half of these new companies will have merged, the other half will have folded, and most major US cities will have multiple bikeshare systems operating alongside one another. The older station based systems will probably see an increase in ridership as new companies enter their markets, because people will be more likely to consider bikeshare as a means of transportation when bikes are more widely available in general. Very few systems have scaled large enough to meet the latent demand for cycling in their cities, so there is definitely room for multiple operators. Thats what I think anyway.
I hope your future predictions are right. my biggest fear is that these systems flood the market, docked systems can’t compete and go out of business, then the dockless VC money dries up and they too go out of business leaving us with no bike share.
Found this to be a pretty enlightening interview on Dockless in Seattle
China’s third largest bike sharing company has reportedly run into financial trouble, amid a wave of busts and consolidations in an industry that took the country by storm this year.
Bluegogo burned through 600m yuan (£68m) in investor funding in the year since it was founded by its youthful CEO Li Gang, deploying 700,000 bikes across cities in China….
But as reports emerged Bluegogo was in trouble, Chinese social media erupted with users complaining they were unable to get their deposits back, and rumours that Li had fled the country.
Chinese bike share graveyard a monument to industry’s ‘arrogance’
…as opposed to an auto wrecking yard, which might cover 75 acres.
Here’s an aerial view of such a yard, near where I grew up in South Buffalo. It’s been there for decades. Compare with the neighborhood to the east, for size and for how closely together the cars are packed. Looks like they might be scrapping some buses when this pic was taken. (Go to satellite view if it does not come up automatically.)
- This reply was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by StuInMcCandless. Reason: Added aerial view of an auto junkyard
the point is that it’s unclear whether the companies are a bubble supported by venture capital, and will burst if the money and hype dries up.
On the success of dockless bike share
I think what’s going on in China is a classic case of a bubble, when investors overspend because they see a future market. Like the internet in the early 90s. There’s a lot of waste. But, eventually, things stabilize, and there really is a market.
WESA just published a piece on dockless bike share:
One good thing I see about those, they show what a properly equipped bike should have, like a basket, good brakes, fenders, and lights fore and aft.
Whatever company sets up shop here, I hope they gear them low. Even on our HealthyRides, I find myself lugging up routine hills like Shady from Fifth to Wilkins.
I’m not sure how I feel about dockless in general. There have been a couple times when I wished there was a HR dock closer, and I opted for paying to leave the thing parked for an hour or so rather than waste time looking for and walking back from a dock. But that would be offset by the potential for sidewalk clutter, which might do as much harm as good.
Wonder about sidewalk clutter. Pgh is compact and has small sidewalks. Wonder if there will be a backlash a la trying to put in bike lanes on first Ave.
It would be pretty ironic if people complained about bikes being left on the sidewalk in a town where parking your car on a sidewalk is basically a right
Before dockless bike-sharing, “cycling accounted for 5.5 percent of transport miles [in Chinese cities]. It has now more than doubled to 11.6 percent” and other findings from Chinese urban planning consultancy Beijing Tsinghua Tongheng Innovation Institute’s White Book of Shared Bike and City Development 2017:
Also, the DC NPR station’s local-news call-in program did a half hour on dockless last week—the producer later told WABA director Greg Billing it was their “first bike show with no angry drivers calling in to complain about bicyclists”:
…and now Uber is getting into the dockless game in San Francisco, from the NYTimes
here’s the latest on dockless bike share. good article.
Looks like they are taking a page from the “ride share app” companies, and using lobbyists to go directly to state lawmakers as a way to circumvent local laws and permits.
Dockless bike share not living up to the hype:
On a per-bike basis, station-based systems yielded an average of 1.7 rides per day, compared to 0.3 rides per day for dockless systems.
For the viability of the business what matters is the cost of the input versus the revenue generated from rental. Dockless bike share costs less than docked. Assuming equal rental fees/ride this would mean I think that dockless is viable so long as it costs less than 1/5 the cost of docked.
I think the cost per bike (including dock, maintenance, etc) of Healthy Ride is around $1500 (right?). So that means a price of $300/bike including maintenance etc. for dockless. That seems too low to be viable.
If this is right then dockless bike share is similar to the “free bike” (or “white bike”, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luud_Schimmelpennink#The_White_Bicycle_Plan) model people experimented with. Bikes were painted white and distributed for free. But people appropriated them for their own exclusive use, or neglected or destroyed them, so after a while there were no free bikes available.
It’s interesting how bike share systems amount to an experiment in collective psychology. Bikes are cheap enough and there’s enough interest to experiment with different economic systems.
the issue with dockless bikeshare/scootershare is that they can operate at a lower cost than dock based systems by just transferring the costs on the public. Docked systems need to either rent land or enter into agreements with cities for stations. They have infrastructure when it comes to stations — they need to maintain them, etc. Dockless ones use the world as the station and thus the costs are on the public — reduced ability to walk due to bikes littering the sidewalk, etc. etc.
so, it costs them less money to operate, but I’d venture that when negative externalities are factored in (which our economic system isn’t good at capturing [it would need to be captured by a tax]) it is probably as expensive or more expensive than docked systems.
fwiw, recent reports on the extension of DC’s dockless pilot (which was supposed to expire at the end of April, but will now go another four months) note that several other cities do charge fees to their operators, both per-year and per-bike:</p>
In Seattle, bike-share companies pay $149 for an annual bike-share license and $15 per bike. Durham, N.C., charges a $250 application fee and $10 per bike. And St. Louis charges a $500 annual permit fee and $10 per bike each year.
The map in the Streetsblog article Jon shared (https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/05/02/trip-data-deflates-the-dockless-bike-share-hype/) is interesting.
It shows that both docked and dockless bike share are spreading. Yes, dockless companies have been brash and hasty, so it’s a good bet that some of the dockless systems will go bankrupt, but urban transportation in the US frustrates almost everyone, so there’s pent-up demand for change. I think the combination of difficult car parking, poor public transportation, and demand for flexibility will allow dockless bike share to grow alongside docked bike share. Dockless scooter share, also.
It’s a bit frustrating to see so much infighting among bike advocates nationally when the simplest solution is just to designate a tiny bit more space for bikes: https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/04/26/pro-tip-for-managing-dockless-bike-share-clutter-give-them-space-on-the-street/
The dockless model is pretty clearly superior in that it allows for expanded coverage, quicker first/last miles, and cheaper ops costs.
The only significant issue with them can literally be solved by a couple hundred-dollar hoop racks every few blocks. Or geo-fence designated sidewalk areas on each block. Major metros with higher volumes can handle more bikes with curbside corrals in the clear space between first parked car and crosswalk, like HealthyRide will be doing.
Open these racks up for non-bikeshare use as well and you have a benefit to all.
It’s not just about space. The market is limited. If you have dockless biking you can’t also have a docked biking system.
And the problem with that? Whichever system is most effective should be the system that gets deployed.
It explains why we’re arguing about what system is more effective, though.
If you have dockless biking you can’t also have a docked biking system.
Come down here and tell DC that…. don’t have the numbers in front of me, but DDOT is reporting Capital Bikeshare membership and ridership have been stable or improving through six months of dockless, and have certainly not been hurt by it—if anything, dockless has led even more people to docking bikeshare.
A co-worker came back from New Orleans and said he loved their bike share system. It is a docked system with the option to leave the bike dockless for an extra fee. All bikes are GPS’ed and if a dockless bike is free you can see it as available to rent on the app. If you leave the bike outside the main biking area it is an additional $25 dollar charge. https://bluebikesnola.com/
You still need physical space for docks and the dockless fee will encourage the bike being returned to docks. I don’t have numbers on how well or bad it is working, but seems like a good compromise.
Amazing photos of the bike share bubble in China
I’d like to see a dockless company deal with the probable demand in places our docked system is slow or not likely to get to — south of Mt Washington, Millvale, West End, Dormont, Westwood. Even in parts of Oakland, it seems there might be more demand than availability. I’d rather there be just one system, and I support it through use and rental regularly, but I won’t fight another one coming in.
Well, healthy ride bikes do seem to have the technical capability to be used dockless if they decided to implement that. The new docks are basically fancy bike racks you can only use with their bikes as far as I can tell.
and 2 people left two healthy ride bikes, undocked, at millvale riverfront park Saturday night into Sunday morning, so there’s that way of making them dockless too.
MY guess is they rode them out to the truck park, found some friends to give them a ride, and left the bikes. Or, it started pouring and they called uber/lyft/ztrip.
I’m assuming they’ll pay some fine for leaving the bikes?
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