Promising the convenient pick-ups of Uber (found all over) and
drop-offs of Car2Go (which can be parked anywhere), new
cycle-sharing services aim to overturn the paradigm of
dock-to-ride-to-dock. A single company in China has already put
more than a million such bicycles on the streets. Users simply
pull up an app to locate the closest bike then unlock it
digitally by scanning a QR code.
Anyone who has used dock-based bike sharing systems know they
come with problems — they might not be close by, or could be
filled (when you’re dropping off) or empty (when you’re picking
up). On the automobile front, similar issues with some sharing
companies have been solved by allowing users to leave cars
wherever they want. This can result in concentrations of cars,
though, that need to be spread back out — and a similar problem
exists for bikes.
While small but similar programs exist elsewhere,
The Guardian describes the problem as it has unfolded
in China: “Seven hundred miles to the south-west, on the
streets of the fast-growing Pearl River manufacturing hub of
Guangzhou, the colourful dockless share bikes are everywhere.
They are parked up by the hundred outside shopping malls and
metro stations, often blocking the pavement; others, rendered
useless by missing saddles, broken locks.” In other places, the
shared bikes are piled up in alleys and vacant lots.
Some companies believe that docking stations are the long-term
solution, but others continue to experiment with
alternative approaches, like: marking out preferred spots on
the sidewalk then adding or deducting credits based on bike
drop-off placement. For now, though, these reports have to be
done manually, relying on crowd-sourced participants. As GPS
gets more accurate, though, it may be possible to do this
automatically. In a way, this method would
replace physical stations by creating virtual ones in the
form of acceptable micro-areas on the digital map.