Cities around the world are on a mission to reduce the number of cars on the roads and promote cycling. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is through bicycle sharing schemes, which encourage people to ditch their cars and take up cycling instead. However, traditional docked bicycle sharing schemes (ie. Santander Bikes in London) can be extremely expensive to run. Dockless bike and e-scooter sharing provided by well-funded startups instead of the city seems like a great alternative: it costs the city nothing and people love the convenience of it. But how can this go wrong?
The hidden tax to pay behind dockless and its convenience
Dockless micromobility sharing, which allows users to pick up and drop off bikes or e-scooters anywhere, has certainly brought convenience to the table. It also has the added benefit of costing the city nothing to operate. However, as we are beginning to see, there are also downsides to this type of system. People tend to not value things when they don't own them, this can result in careless riding and parking, creating chaos in the city. Additionally, the high operation costs and vandalism make it difficult for those startups to hit profitability without venture capital funding.
Paris is about to vote on whether they should ban e-scooter sharing
Paris, one of the most progressive cities when it comes to micromobility, is currently planning a referendum on whether to ban e-scooter sharing due to these issues, scheduled on 2nd of April 2023. It seems the city has had enough of the reckless riding behaviour and chaotic parking.
"They are in the way and they are dagenerous" said David Belliard, Paris Mayor's duputy in urban transport.
The city has noticed the hidden "convenience" tax that comes with dockless sharing, and they want to address it before it becomes a bigger problem. Their decision will have a big impact on the micromobility sharing market, and we will see more and more cities start to face the issues dockless schemes cause and consider whether it’s really worth it.
Why not make it easier for people to own a bike or e-scooter?
If you use a bike or e-scooter regularly, it makes more sense for you to own one. However, many people are deterred from owning a bike or e-scooter due to concerns about theft and the hassle of maintenance. Cities cannot keep thinking it's the cyclist's job to keep their bike safe. They should take a much more proactive role in making bicycle parking secure for cyclists if they are serious about getting people on bikes.
Any other form of bicycle sharing available? Caiscais example
For cities, it seems they only have the option between expensive legacy docked schemes and chaotic dockless systems. It's time to explore different types of bicycle sharing schemes. Cities can look to innovate and create new models. For example, Cascais is working on building smart, "open-sourced" parking infrastructure for cycling, which can provide secure parking for bike owners and facilitate a city-wide bicycle sharing scheme. Private bike sharing operators can also use the same infrastructure for their users to pick up and return their bikes from the same parking infrastructure. MOSA also has a similar vision to build intelligent cycle parking hubs that can be used for bike owners as well as a small bike sharing point for the community.
City + Community + Innovation = Cyclist-first future
The upcoming referendum on e-scooter sharing in Paris serves as a crucial reminder for both cities and startups in the micromobility industry. Innovators should consider the impact of their actions on society and the environment, not just user convenience and business scalability. Cities should prioritise investing in infrastructure to address the challenges of bicycle parking and security, even if they may not have the budget to do it all on their own. By setting an example and encouraging private space owners to do the same, we can work towards creating a truly cyclist-friendly and cyclist-first city, encouraging more people to take up cycling as a mode of transportation