The other day I came across an article on the Bloomberg Businessweek website analysing the new trend in bike sharing services arriving from China: it is now possible to hire a bike parked anywhere in those cities that decided to try this scheme.
I remember when the concept of bike sharing was an innovative transport solution at the beginning of the 21st century: those people who didn't a own a bike and were either travelling to or living in another city could finally ride a bike by subscribing to the local provider and enjoy cycling for very little money.
Many transport "gurus" argued that this system wouldn't have much future as in small cities residents already have a bike and, if they had to travel to other cities, they would have caught a taxi, used local public transport or walked.
Well, after not so much time, bike sharing has become very popular in many part of the world (
as of June 2014 there are 50 countries in the 5 continents offering this kind of service) contributing to reducing polluting emissions and congestion and in the same time encouraging physical exercise.
It is now common in many cities to find bike stations where, once registered to the service, one can unlock a bike usually by tapping a smart card on the station reader and get the bike for the time needed. There are several business models (first 30' o 60' free, then little money for a number of hours of use). At the end of the journey, the bike will be returned and locked to another bike station and the system will charge the credit card provided with the total fare.
In some cities there is a higher density of bike stations while in others the number of stations is lower than expected, however the concept of station is key to the system.
Now, as the article describes pretty well, there could be an "invasion" (?) of free-floating bike sharing fleets: it is possible to take or leave the bike wherever in the city (some limitations in distance from the city centre apply).
The unlocking process is very easy (reading a QR code with smartphones) for registered users.
This is certainly a wonderful solution which should encourage even more use of bikes for our urban trips. BUT, this great service made possible by the current technology has to deal with the degree of civilisation of human beings.
Yes, as a matter of fact, potentially these bikes can be left anywhere so we could see tens of bikes on pavements, in squares, in front of shops, in parks, etc. which not only would limit walking, running, but it would also spoil the livability of our cities.
In addition, these freely parked bikes could be easily stolen (they cannot run when locked but they can be lifted and loaded on vehicles) or vandalised like it happened in Milan last month (news in Italian).
Are we going to be invaded by fleets of cheap bikes parked everywhere (see the picture of this editorial taken from the Bloomberg article)? or the system will be unsuccessful because there is not enough culture of respect?
This could lead to open discussions that may go beyond the pure technical and transport issues and need to include experts of other disciplines such as civics, psychology, teaching respect, law enforcement...and what more?
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