dockless bikes: on-demand, shared bicycles accessed via an app and then unlocked with a code, allowing rides for an hourly fee. The locked bicycle is left anywhere in a public place.
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The Metropolitan Area Planning Council on Friday announced a new regional bike-share system, separate from the Hubway rental network, that will bring thousands of bikes to 15 Boston suburbs.
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Their systems differ from the Hubway and more traditional bike-share systems because they don’t need to be locked at a fixed location. Instead, riders use a smartphone app to find a bike on a map, to pay for their rides, and to lock and unlock the vehicles.
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Born overseas, dockless bike rentals have suddenly taken hold in US cities, highlighted by news this week that Uber had acquired its own dockless bike-share system.
The bikes have also created new urban challenges, with reports from Chelsea to China of abandoned bikes blocking sidewalks and other public space.
Uber Technologies Inc. has agreed to buy an on-demand electric-bike outfit that could help the ride-hailing company expand its service to customers traveling short distances.
The deal for Jump Bikes, recognizable by its bulky red bicycles with large baskets, gives Uber access to customers in Washington and San Francisco, where the startup has a few hundred bikes available to rent in increments of 30 minutes for $2.
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Customers can reserve the bikes and unlock them using a code they type into a keypad on the bikes.
Jump is among a host of venture-backed companies vying for customers with brightly colored bicycles that can be left and locked just about anywhere. The dockless bikes have riled some residents who view them as anathema to urban aesthetics. Transit advocates, on the other hand, believe the bikes may ease congestion and pollution by reducing people’s reliance on cars.
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Unlike some other competitors, Jump requires customers to tether the bikes to a pole or other secure structure using its built-in locking mechanism, or face a fee. Jump’s electrified bikes make cycling easier with a small electric motor. But they are more costly to produce and heavier and more sluggish than a traditional bicycle.
The untethered bikes all belong to a new generation of “dockless” bike share companies. To pick one up users download an app that shows where the bikes have been left. Scan a QR code on your phone, the bike unlocks and you are off for a $1 30-minute carbon-free ride. Unlike docking rental services, which require bikes to be returned to a fixed docking station, you can leave your ride wherever your journey ends, practically. And therein lies the problem.
DC’s dockless bike experiment is a beta test designed to run through April next year. It seems to be working beautifully. . . . So far the companies offering dockless bikes – China’s Mobike and Ofo and the US-backed LimeBike, Spin and Jump – have only been allowed to put up to 400 bikes each on the streets. That’s six bike companies for a city of just over 680,000 people – not all of them bike riders.
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Sadly in other cities this green – and taxpayer-free – solution to urban transport issues has turned into a surreal nightmare.
In China, where there are some 16 million shared bikes on the street and MoBike alone now has over a million, the authorities have been forced to clear up ziggurats of discarded bikes. Residents of Hangzhou became so irritated by bikes lazily dumped by riders, and reportedly sabotaged by angry cab drivers, that the authorities were forced to round up 23,000 bikes and dump them in 16 corrals around the city.
In the UK bikes have been hacked, vandalized and thrown on railway tracks. In Australia dumped bikes have been mangled into pavement blocking sculptures – perhaps in a homage to technology’s promise of “creative destruction”.
Utteeyo Dasgupta, assistant economics professor at Wagner College in New York, said the bike dilemma had some similarities to the “tragedy of the commons” – the economic theory that individuals using a shared resource often act according to their own interests and to the detriment of the shared resource.
See related Trovelog posts: active commuting <>