There’s a new service rolling out in a few cities in the U.S. and Canada called dockless bike sharing. This isn’t a peer-to-peer service. But it is an efficient use of resources. First started in China, and very popular there, dockless bike sharing involves using an app to find a nearby bike, unlock it, and then drop it off wherever your ride ends. Most of these apps charge $1 for a half hour ride.
The key here is that there are no racks. Unlike the systems that are popping up in major cities all over, dockless bike sharing doesn’t require installing a bunch of locking stations. That’s cheaper for the companies running these bike sharing services. And in theory this means it will be easier for people to find bikes near where they want them. Crowdsourced bike access should leave bikes mostly where other people want to use them, if you get enough users.
In Seattle, one of the first cities to roll this service out in the U.S., there are three companies competing for bikers business: Ofo, Limebike and Spin. In explorations of that city I noticed the brightly colored bikes everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. This included a number of places that seemed very unlikely as a bike parking spot. Out in the middle of a field, on the sidewalk in a residential neighborhoods, near the train tracks in the industrial district, and even a few in the water in Lake Union. Not having the bikes locked up at a docking station makes vandalism easier. Though I’ve also seen a lot of vandalized bikes in cities using docking bike share services.
In addition to Seattle and Austin, some cities in Canada now have dockless bike startups like U-bike and Dropbike. And now Uber has announced their intentions to partner with Jump to launch a dockless bike service in San Francisco. This service will be available through the Uber app that many people already have installed on their phones.
I think dockless bike sharing could be super useful, both for locals and for travelers. But one key problem that none of the companies have solved yet: helmets. I’m unlikely to travel with a bike helmet. And in many cities there are laws against biking without a helmet. Not to mention that it’s a good thing to protect your head! Until the Hövding price drops, this will be a big barrier to me using bike sharing services while traveling.