Uber and others are bringing 'dockless' bike-sharing to North America
By Nora Young
In a tech world obsessed with finding the next big thing, the innovation of the moment is... bike-sharing.
Recently, ride-hailing giant Uber, acquired the US-based startup, Jump, which specializes in ebike-sharing. But that's just the latest in a flurry of activity in the bike sharing space.
Chinese bike-sharing companies Ofo and Mobike are moving into multiple markets in the UK, with Mobike having plans for U.S. cities as well. The U.S. has a number of home grown bike-sharing startups. Here in Canada, Toronto-based DropBike is already in several Canadian cities. New bike-sharing services started spreading from Victoria to the lower mainland in B.C. earlier this year.
"This is the concept of a single platform...where you can find every type of transportation service out there, other than your personal car," she said. She explained that from a single app you'd be able to do everything from looking up bus stop information, to booking an Uber or Lyft, to getting your dockless bike.
If everything is converged into one place and payment is also handled there...that's going to make it much less likely that a person is going to resort to driving themselves- Laura Bliss
"The idea is that if everything is converged into one place and payment is also handled there, and everything can be booked and streamlined, that's going to make it that much less likely that a person is going to resort to driving themselves," she said.
Dockless bikes are certainly convenient for the rider, but they have not been without their problems. Hong Kong-based startup GoBee has cited vandalism in its decision to leave the French market, and there have been reports of unwieldy stacks of dockless bikes cluttering up sidewalks, for example, after they were introduced in Dallas.
"There are many barriers to biking in general, but there are some that can be easily addressed using bike share systems," said Raktim Mitra, an associate professor in the school of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University in Toronto.
He said that one of the main barriers is simply the fear prospective bike riders have of someone stealing their bike. "Bike share facilities can address that quite easily," he said, citing the ease of the new GPS-enabled, dockless bikes.
There are many commuters who don't take transit to work just because they don't have a way to connect them from transit stop to their final destination- Raktim Mitra
While bike commuting rates are low in North American cities, Mitra pointed out that there is potential for growth, since "there is data that suggests there are lots of trips we're making on a day-to-day basis that could be biked if proper facilities were there, or in the presence of a more robust bicycling culture," he said.
The hope is that bike-sharing could solve the so-called 'first mile/last mile' problem. "There are many commuters who don't take transit to work just because they don't have a way to connect them from transit stop to their final destination, and that last mile can easily be bridged by bike share systems," Mitra said.
Despite the potential of mobility-as-a service, neither Mitra nor transportation journalist Laura Bliss see the financial success of these dockless bike companies as a done deal. "What it requires is a dense city where people are using bikes very, very often, where the turnover is high enough that the one dollar ride is actually resulting in profit," said Bliss.
"I don't see bike share systems being very successful in the very short run," said Mitra. "At the same time, we see a systematic increase in bike rates... And I think companies like Uber are speculating on that potential."