[SIGCIS-Members] Bloomberg: "Bird Races to Become the First Scooter Unicorn"

Chris Leslie chrisleslienyc at hotmail.com
Wed May 30 20:56:33 PDT 2018

That photo in the Atlantic is alarming, isn’t it? But I happen to live in Guangzhou, China at the moment, and dockless bikes are doing quite well despite the biased press in the US. Biking is big here already, and I estimate 1/4 to 1/3 of the bikes I see on the roads are bike shares.

I like dockless bikes because life is not always symmetrical - if I am meeting friends for a coffee, then a trip to an art gallery, then to dinner, I might need a bike at the start but at the end I want to take a bus. With a OfO or Mobike, I just find a bike using the rangefinder in the app, unlock it, and go where I want to go. I don’t have to go find my bike where I left it.

As Paul points out, it’s a good use of GPS. It’s also an example of how China is one of the countries that is far ahead on electronic payments and the sharing economy. As Paul notes, there is a cost of entry - but you don’t need an iPhone to use Mobike or Ofo; a Huawei phone will be fine! The ride itself is 1 RMB (1/6 of a US dollar). There is no time limit that I know of, although the price of the ride goes up the longer you use the bike..

The bikes are not as sturdy as the docked Citibikes in NYC, and I suspect that’s a feature of the dockless paradigm (OfO doesn’t have to charge me $1000 if I fail to dock the bike or the bike is broken). Dockless bikes also get a lot of use, so they do break down. When they do, users can tag the bike as broken and a crew rounds them up for repair or recycling.

So, I wouldn’t say (like the Atlantic photo suggests) that dockless bikes are a failed project of a junk economy. They are not a replacement for sustainable infrastructure either, and I read a different article earlier this week that 98% of the world’s electric busses are in China. So they seem to be part of a larger project of making cities livable.

Incidentally, riders can use their cell phones to pay the bus fare as well.

Chris Leslie

On May 31, 2018, at 1:10 AM, Bjorn Westergard <bjornw at gmail.com<mailto:bjornw at gmail.com>> wrote:

On Wed, May 30, 2018 at 9:59 AM Ceruzzi, Paul <CeruzziP at si.edu<mailto:CeruzziP at si.edu>> wrote:
These things have suddenly appeared all over downtown DC, along with the pastel-colored dockless bikeshares (LimeBike, OfO, et al). I tried a Bird scooter—they can go fast! But it takes nerves of steel to ride in traffic. The drivers don’t like it when you take up a lane, even if you ride fast. But if you go on the sidewalk, the pedestrians get mad at you, for good reason.  I think they are a great idea, especially since both the NY subways and the DC Metro are both in a state of collapse. (I use Capital Bikeshare, a system that requires docs, every day in my commute. The bikes are sturdy, a bit heavy, but well-suited for urban travel.)

I too live in D.C.

It's not at all clear to me that these dockless scooters and bicycles ought to be part of our transportation mix long-term - what need do they serve that would not be better served by busses and docked bicycles? What are these but a novelty for high-income residents of the urban core, a new way for teenagers to concuss themselves[fn:1], propped up by VC largesse and externalization of social costs (e.g. the obstruction of streets and sidewalks, the proliferation of "gig" employment)? If made to pay these costs - by employing rebalancers at a living wage and maintaining a service level that kept public thoroughfares unobstructed - could these enterprises ever turn a profit? How does their environmental impact compare to alternatives? The Chinese experience, alluded to above, does not inspire confidence.

Bikeshare, which should have been public<http://www.atulocal689.org/capital-bikeshare.html>, is at least union<http://www.twulocal100.org/story/twu-notches-another-bike-share-win-washington-dc>.

- Bjorn Westergard

[fn:1]: I have witnessed two such accidents already.
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