Dockless bike sharing is an innovative and profitable new market place for tech-savvy start-ups but what happens when technology and good intentions meet the real world?
The generosity of bikes appearing across cities throughout the world to help us get from A to B, improve our health and have a positive impact on our environment is a wonderful brand concept.
Earlier this year brightly coloured yellow bikes began popping up like chocolate Easter eggs around Melbourne street corners, train stations and many other public areas. A new concept to Melbourne that initially made many of us concerned that someone had randomly dumped a brand new stolen bicycle.
We soon discovered these untethered bikes were a fabulous brand concept from Australia’s first dockless bicycle sharing platform from Singapore called oBike. They saw a gap in the market here and wanted to implement a system that was faster than walking from bus/train/tram station to and from work, cheaper than a train, bus or taking a cab, less time consuming than waiting for a bus and healthy and environmentally friendly.
The concept is fairly straight forward and incredibly affordable at $1.99 for 30 minutes; instead of heading to a docking station full of bikes, users tap a mobile app to locate the closest bicycle left by a previous rider on a footpath or in another public place, a rider scans a QR code on the bike to unlock the rear wheels and once the rider gets to their destination they find a location eligible for bicycle parking and lock the bike manually.
Unlike fixed docking stations you can leave your bike wherever your journey ends, literally and perhaps therein lies the challenge with the business model, did they factor in understanding the psychology of human behaviour? Unfortunately, the mistreatment of the oBikes has shown us an ugly side of human nature with many of the bikes being dumped in obscure places and vandalised.
Melbourne City council began impounding the bikes declaring them “visual pollution” after they’ve been found up trees, discarded on railway tracks, placed on rooftops and toilet blocks and dozens dumped in Melbourne’s Yarra River, not to mention the amount discarded in laneways missing wheels and bike seats.
They have been used in a blockade at the Victoria International Container Terminal by the maritime union of Australia blocking two entrances in an industrial dispute and more recently a disagreement about the use of the oBikes have sparked a brawl on a Melbourne train. How’s that for Melbourne’s response to this fabulous concept and oBikes good intentions!
Feeling a little embarrassed of my hometown and sad and sorry about the mistreatment of the oBikes I decided to do some research and find out what was wrong with us? Has this happened anywhere else in the world or is this wave of misbehaviour a uniquely Australian cultural flaw? Surely it has to be.
To my surprise there has been similar treatment of shared bikes throughout the world and in particular in China where there are over 16 million shared bikes on the road, they have bike sharing graveyards as vast as Australia Rules Football fields. Their wave of mistreatment of the bikes also led many Chinese to look for deeper explanations and ask if bike-sharing has revealed essential flaws in the national character, prompting a far-reaching debate about social decay and the decline of decorum and morality in the country. I hear you China, however rest assured it’s not you, it’s all of us.
Bike-sharing grave in China
Sadly, throughout the world public properties are seen as having no owner therefore people believe they can take advantage of them without regret. Used and abused bike sharing bikes are having a tough ‘ride’ on the grand bike path of life.
Bike sharing systems have shown that they can help reshape urban transportation and make cities better, people healthier and the planet greener for their inhabitants which I am a passionate advocate of however their placement (often in comical positions) in the real world and mistreatment by many is a stark reminder of the short comings of human nature and something these tech start-ups and ourselves need to address.