Next From China: Bikeshare Without the Station
Is "dockless" bikeshare a practical possibility? Maybe, judging from the success of operators Mobike and Ofo in China. Sherisse Pham writes, "The bikes can be locked and unlocked anywhere via a smartphone app, which means users don't have to return them to designated stations."
Now, this "game-changing" approach is getting its test run outside China. "One of China's largest operators, Mobike, unleashed 1,000 of its orange-wheeled bicycles in the rainy English city of Manchester on Thursday, marking its first foray outside of Asia."
As one might expect, operating a dockless bikeshare system comes with its share of challenges. "The rapid spread of this approach across China has already thrown up problems, including mountains of discarded bikes and companies going bust [...] To try counter those kinds of problems, Mobike and Ofo track their bikes through GPS and penalize users who hide bikes or park them in inaccessible places."
This data-intensive approach lets the companies finely tailor their logistics. "Prodding users to help redistribute their bikes is possible thanks to the data Mobike and Ofo collect on the millions of people who use their service daily -- they know when bikes are sitting idle, and when high traffic areas need more service."