23 March 2017

"Uber For Bicycles" Coming To Your Town?

As happy as I am to see bike-sharing programs, I have to admit that I haven't used one myself.  When I'm home in New York, I have my own bikes.  The Florida city where my parents live doesn't have a program and I have a bike (such as it is) there.  And, when I've traveled during the past few years I've rented bikes, even in cities (Paris and Montreal) that have share programs.

I rent bikes mainly for a few reasons.  One is that rental bikes are generally better than share bikes. Also, I figure that renting a bike is actually less expensive, given how much I ride, than using a share bike.  Finally, I would rather use my credit or debit card just once, when I pay the rental shop or agent, than to insert or swipe my card in a docking station every time I use a share bike. I'm no expert on cyber-security, but I reckon that the less often I have to use my card, the less vulnerable I am to theft.

But the main reason why I prefer to rent than to use a share system is that I like having the freedom to ride where I want, for as long as I want, without having to worry about finding a docking station.

Cyclists ride bike-share machines around Hangzhou's West Lake. 

During the past year a number of Chinese start-up companies, led by Mobike, have tried to solve the problem. Users of their services download an app that tells them where to find a bicycle, which they unlock by scanning the bike's code into their phones or using a combination they are sent. Then they can ride wherever they want or need to go, and leave their bikes wherever their trip ends.

Three years ago, Beijing's bike share program was deemed a bust.  Increasing affluence brought more cars, seen as symbols of prosperity, into the city and people started to see bicycles as primitive.  Now business is booming for the "Uber of bicycles", as the dockless bike program is called, in the capital as well as in other Chinese cities.

Share bikes piled up near entrance of Xiashan Park in Shenzhen.

In fact, some residents as well as officials complain that they can't park their own bikes when they ride to work, school or wherever because bikes from the dockless share program are parked, often haphazardly, in spaces designated for residents' bikes as well as in other areas--including, at times, the streets.  

Still, the proprietors of those startup companies want to export their service and expand the prosperity they have enjoyed.  They are looking at other Chinese cities, as well as municipalities in Europe and the US.  (Interestingly, of the world's fifteen largest bike share programs, thirteen are in China.  The other two are the ones in Paris, which comes in at number five, and London, which is twelfth.

While some would welcome an "Uber for bicycles", as the service is often called, others fear that they will suffer from the same problems of parking and congestion that are now seen in Chinese cities--especially since some of those places, like Hangzhou and Shanghai, have compact centers that contain historic districts with narrow streets.

N.B.:  Photos are from The Guardian.


  1. http://road.cc/content/news/145924-spinlister-van-moof-team-radical-new-hire-bike-system