When running a fleet of dockless bikeshare bikes, one of the potentially most costly problems is theft of the bicycles. They aren’t attached to anything if they are dockless, even if they are in a marked “hub”, and, even if the bikes are typically heavier than a personal bike, they can still be easy targets for theft. There are six operators in central London currently and each of these operators has to consider whether it is worthwhile operating in a particular borough – whether the profit to be made from legimitate hires outweights the costs involved in replacing stolen bicycles.
With the news earlier this month that Beryl is suspending operations in Enfield due to vandalism after just three months of operation, and following Urbo’s similarly rapid arrival to and departure from the borough (and indeed all of the UK) last year, I’ve done a simple analysis of the risk/reward of operating in different London boroughs. This analysis is an alternative approach to a previous model that looked specifically at general vandalism rates and usage rates, because it looks at the daytime as well as nighttime populations.
I’ve used the Census 2011 Travel to Work counts, comparing the full 16-74 population with that that travels to work mainly by bicycle, looking at both the Workplace populations (i.e. daytime/evening) and the Residential populations (i.e. nighttime/weekends). A simple approximation of the populations is achieved by equally weighting both figures. This means that Croydon’s average population more than halves its nighttime population during the day, while Westminster’s triples. I also only looked at bikes being used to regularly travel to work, as these are the ones that are most likely on the streets, and therefore much more vulnerable to theft.
I also use the Police data statistics on cycle theft, for 2018-9, looking across the Metropolitan Police, City of London Police and British Transport Police force data. I only considered bicycle theft rather than vandalism, as the latter is not broken down by object type, and I believe that general bicycle theft is a good proxy for vandalism and theft of dockless bicycles – with vandalism often occurring as a result of attempted theft. Dockless bicycles are probably not numerous enough in London yet (there are maybe around 3000 available) compared with the ~200000+ private bicycles that are used to commute to work daily with many left in public parking facilities, albeit almost always chained to an immoveable object.
I was keen to not map areas of high cycle theft or use – but rather map one compared to the other. Some places see very little cycle use – the low green numbers – e.g. Harrow and Havering. But they still see some cycle theft – the red numbers – and so the average number of thefts per bicycle is therefore high. On the other hand, Westminster, the City and Islington also see high theft rates but these are more than balanced out by very high usage rates. Only in Hackney, does the very high cycle usage rate (84 bikes/1000 people) still suffer from the also very high theft rate (12 bikes/1000 people). In Hackney, you’ll therefore probably suffer a stolen bike every 7 years on average. In Redbridge though, it’s 1 every 4 years – there aren’t very many bikes in the borough at all, but the few that there are often victims of cycle theft.
This is a really rough study – it could be improved by using more recent population/cycle usage data (which is available for residential areas but not work areas), by looking at vandalism as well as cycle theft, and by more carefully modelling the 24-hour population. But it’s good indicator of why Islington, Westminster and the City of London are so popular with operators, despite a high “headline” rate of theft when looking at the raw Police numbers, and why Greenwich, Newham and Kingston have no operators at all, despite plenty of regular cyclists. It is also why boroughs that sit in the middle – Enfield, Croydon, Southwark and Hillingdon – are probably only going to succeed with dock-based approaches, and so likely require council capital funding rather than hoping that dockless operators will be able to run a successful commercial service for making bikes easily available to those that don’t own one or have one handy – which is what bikeshare is.
Mobility is a complex and important topic in geography, planning and technology. My research only touches on a small part of the field, namely automated micromobility services (aka micro-MaaS?) such as bikeshare and escootershare, so it’s always interesting to see a wider viewpoint.
As such, I was interested when an acquaintance at HERE Mobility, an autonomous part of HERE Technologies (a major location platform provider), mentioned a new report they’ve recently published, the State of Mobility 2019. While there’s a myriad of information sources on mobility, which has evolved rapidly the last few years, with increasing urbanisation and big technology players funding driverless car research, a single document is a helpful read to keep track of what’s going on.
I’ve used the report to frame some of my own observations of the mobility space, as it stands, rather than a simple review of the report. So, to see HERE Mobility’s own take, you’ll need to download the report (signup link above).
Mobility + Cities = MaaS, Right Now
The report is clear that Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is the current driver of mobility research. That is, shared assets are the way of the future. When living in a dense city of the future, only the lucky few will have space for a car, an electric bike (and easy access to a workshop to fix it). Moreover, even if you do, parking it at the other end of your journey will be increasingly tough.
As a personal example (not in the report), 22 Bishopsgate in London, a tower under construction in the City of London, will have a daytime population of 12000, but will have 4 disabled car parking spaces, no regular ones, and 1700 bicycle parking spaces. The other 80-90% will arrive by public transport. Great – but the trains and tubes of London don’t have much in the way of spare space for the extra people at this and other developments. So, MaaS will become increasingly important in such an environment. You need a bike or would prefer a private ride to a meeting? A fleet of cabs or electric bikes are at your service. The system is patchy now, with rival operators of both modes not particularly integrating well – but the options are there and will only become more important – and their integration is crucial for a useful system that serves all. This is an obvious point but also one that HERE Mobility’s business is staked on – as it aims to become an honest broker of MaaS services rather as a provider itself.
The report emphasises that while MaaS technology is going to have to get smarter – we are going to have to get better at utilising the newer ways of moving through the urban environment, too. The report points out too three technology components of MaaS – the backend crunching big data to create a smart fleet and smart usage of it, a mobile app so the user can get information on MaaS options and perform transactions, and the asset itself having technology, being aware of what it is, where it is, and what it is capable of doing – a so called Internet of Things (IoT) platform. For example, your electric bike (aka pedelec) needs to have a good idea of its remaining battery range and whether it is inside an allowed operating area.
Design Globally but Think Locally
Another key point as that the US is not Europe (and neither are Asia, I would add) – and so MaaS solutions in one of these regions is not necessarily going to ride in the other. Another personal example would be bikeshare.
In Europe, we had Asian-origin bikeshares arriving in 2017-8 (Ofo, Mobike and oBike to name but three) but European and Asian cities and city cultures are fundamentally different. European cities tend to not have the huge pavements of Asian cities or huge roads of American and Asian cities, but we do tend to have a problem with vandalism and theft at a level that is less seen certainly in much of Asia. So, a one-size-fits-all bikeshare is not going to work here.
Similarly we are currently having a wave of US-origin bikeshares and escootershares (Bird, JUMP and Lime). Again, narrow pavements may struggle with the physical equipment, although at least technologies have improved to secure assets more effectively.
HERE Mobility’s report uses the example of the fundamental difference of European and US transport networks – with US cities typically being more car-designed, with wider, straighter roads, while European cities have often had a bigger focus on public transport, such as bus lanes or subway networks. If MaaS is going to come in and act as a complement to both types of cities, then it has to be adapted accordingly. Regulatory differences in the regions are also a factor – while the US has been keen to lead on autonomous vehicle research but introducing sections of public roads in some cities an states where such vehicles can be trialled, European cities often restrict cars of all sorts from large parts of their city centres.
The report’s most interesting section disseminates a survey of over 20000 people, around 50% in each of the US and Europe. Within Europe, they split out northern Europe (UK/Scandinavia/Netherlands) from the big continental players (France/Germany/Spain).
The differences between US, northern Europe and southern Europe are noticeable. Unsurprisingly the car dominates as the “primary” transportation mode in all three regions. In Europe a significant minority use public transport, and in continental Europe in particularly, micromobility also makes an appearance, indicating that Germany, France and Spain are ahead of the game not only with respect to the US but with their more northern neighbours. The other modes in the survey: car rental, ride hail and rideshare, have very low usages throughout the surveyed regions. The survey also breaks down by age group across each region and mode type, with the only significant difference being the youngest group (18-24) using public transport a lot more than the other groups – and US 18-24 year-olds using rideshare/micromobility noticeably more:
Transport App Consolidation
As mentioned above, HERE Mobility is aiming to be a “neutral” MaaS marketplace and so the final part of the survey focuses on the current situation on many people’s mobile phones – multiple apps needed for utilising all the transportation options in a city, along with measuring the desire for such a consolidation for service discovery and payment:
The final part of the report summarises the survey looks to the future. The authors note that it’s not all about price and that a more expensive but higher quality commute, if suggested by an app, might win out. Users generally also are not going to keep multiple transportation apps on their phones although they may try them out for a limited amount of time. And finally, private car usage is very much expected to continue to decline. The report sites Whim, a Helsinki based system that integrates all MaaS modes, from multiple providers, into a single app, is resulting in some very positive outcomes after only its first year of operation.
Here in London, and again focusing on the bikeshare services here, we are seeing some limited horiztonal and vertical consolidation, but we are a long way from rival services sharing their provision data. In terms of apps showing multiple services:
Uber has its JUMP bike service, and Transport for London (TfL)’s open data public transport information, integrated into its main app.
Google has included the TfL public transport data along with TfL’s (open data) bikeshare (through an ITO data brokerage agreement) and Lime bikeshare, and Uber and a couple of other cab and rideshare servies, into its app, although not Uber’s bikeshare. Apple Maps is similar.
CityMapper has Mobike, Lime and Santander Cycles bikeshares, but not Uber’s JUMP, along with TfL data but no cabs.
TfL’s own journey planner just includes its services.
A number of smaller services (e.g. London’s Beryl Bikes) have started to publish location information in open data formats but these are generally below the radar of multi-option aggregators and so have not yet been adopted.
Transactions (i.e. payment) involve, in almost all cases, the user getting redirected from their planning app to the providers app, with the notable exception of CityMapper and TfL services – but if you are signed up for their “CityMapper Pass”
So, a long way to go in London and – indeed – the rest of the world.
Thanks to HERE Mobility for sending me a copy of the report.
Two bicycle sharing systems have launched in London in the last fortnight, joining four systems already on the streets of central London and two more on the edge of the capital:
Freebike has launched an electric-assist system based in the City, Islington, Hackney, Camden, Kensington, Chelsea and parts of Lambeth and Wandsworth along the river. Essentially, central London but excluding Westminster and Bankside. There are around 200 bikes in the initial launch, painted flourescent yellow and black.
The system uses virtual docks. You can pause your journey (at a reduced rate) in the operating area, and also in Westminster and Bankside. You can also finish a journey away from a dock, for an additional fee. Hackney doesn’t yet have virtual docks. Freebike’s unique proposition is that you can do short non-electric journeys for it for free, once you have an account and have deposited £1 in it. The bikes are electric-assist, use of this is optional and if you ride under your own pedal power, it is cheaper!
Freebike is an electric version of the Homeport platform, which already runs smaller systems in a number of UK cities including Oxford, Nottingham and Lincoln, as well as in a number of Polish and other European cities.
The second launch is Beryl Bikes who are now operating in Enfield in north London. They have plans also to launch in the City of London – along with Freebike, they are the two operators that the City of London have approved for using virtual docks within the Square Mile. The bikes are painted turquoise. Their initial fleet is 350 bikes, covering the full borough of Enfield but focused on the west and central parts.
The system is not electric-assist but the bikes do come with solar panels for charging the lights and also the bicycle symbol laser-lights which were invented by Beryl and appear on the larger Santander Cycles system in central London.
You can only start or finish a journey in one of 50 virtual docks. Notably, these have been marked out on the ground, as rectangles which often (but not always) surround existing bicycle parking hoops. The bays are also coloured turquoise, and can be used for any bicycles, including future virtual dock and dockless systems in the future, although Beryl do have exclusivity with Enfield at the moment. Beryl should be extending into the City of London soon – they are waiting for the virtual docks to be marked on the ground there first. Freebike will also be using these docks.
The careful and considered launch of these two new systems is a contrast to the existing “pure” dockless systems of Lime, Mobike and JUMP which don’t currently designate virtual docks at all (Mobike did briefly, a while back). It will be interesting to see whether “docks” are the future of “dockless” – whether they can provide the balance between cost-effectiveness of not needing the Santander Cycles docks with their associated planning, pavement reconstruction and power requirements, and order of ensuring that the bikes should be available only from well-marked and sufficiently spacious locations.
Along with the six systems mentioned above, ITS operate a very small two-docking-station system using Smoove bikes (a French company who also supply the Velib in Paris) between the two campuses of Kingston University, using pedal-assist to get people up/down Kingston Hill. Only students and staff can join this system. There is also a small nextbike-based system servicing mainly Brunel University and Uxbridge town centre. Unlike Kingston’s, anyone can use this one. It too is dock-based, but has no electric assist. Nextbike supply numerous systems around Europe and Asia, including the forthcoming huge Birmingham system. Confusingly, the Brunel system is also called Santander Cycles, despite being incompatible with the Santander Cycles in central London.
A quick summary of the eight London bikeshare systems currently operating:
Red + Navy
Green + Yellow
Yellow + Black
Red + White
Optional Electric Assist
Inner, NW, SE
Ride Cost 1×10 min “Dabbler”
£0 (ped.) £1 (elect.)
Ride Cost 2×15 min “Errand”
£1 (ped.) £4 (elect.)
Ride Cost 1×60 min “Tourist”
£2.50* (p.) £6 (elect.)
* Stopping/restarting the journey at intermediate docking stations will reduce this cost. ** Will also used taped docks in at least the City of London, once they are constructed. *** Additionally launching shortly in the City of London.
Of note, Freebike is the cheapest public system (i.e. discounting the private KU Bikes) for two theoretical fifteen minute journeys by a user without a multiday membership – both in electric assist and full manual pedal mode. Lime is noticeably more expensive than all the others.
JUMP, Uber’s electric-assist dockless bikeshare, arrives in London today, with a 350-bike trial in north London, focused on Islington borough. The organisation is also looking to expand to other London boroughs later this summer. Interestingly, the app right now is showing the operating area as covering not just Islington, but southern Camden, Hackney, southern Waltham Forest and the western edge of Tower Hamlets borough, as well as the City of London:
We’ve had quite a few dockless bikeshare operations trying to crack the London market, with its huge potential, but fragmented cooperation/approval process split between 33 boroughs – some with an existing significant cycling culture and others very much car-dominated – has meant success has been mixed. First, oBike appeared out nowhere in summer 2017, before disappearing almost as quickly as councils freaked out and impounded some. Then, later in 2017 and through 2018, Ofo, Mobike and Urbo went for a more controlled approach – however only Mobike has survived to 2019 – and only by pruning right down and then expanding to just core, well established zones. Finally, Lime launched in 2018, but have only recently, officially at least, made it to the inner city.
JUMP has bided its time, watched these other players and is coming to market in London with a significant proposition. We knew they were (probably) coming, thanks to their prominent sponsorship of a relevant trade conference in London last year year, followed a few months later by some job adverts for fleet management. Since then, it’s been very quiet, until now.
Their patience has allowed them to refine a cost model, sensible operating area and bike suitable for the London market. Islington is a great base to start with – it allows cycling into almost the centre of London (the City and the revitalised King’s Cross area both being on the border). They are not wasting time with helping boroughs with a car problem try and encourage cycling (hello Enfield, Brent, Croydon, Bromley, Hounslow, Redbridge, Newham) – something the councils should be doing themselves rather than relying on a fully commercial entity that focus on financial, not societal decisions. Unsurprisingly, the councils have then found these services disappearing soon after launch. Instead, they are starting in a place where people already see cyclists on the road (and surviving/thriving) and are therefore likely to start themselves.
They have also got a sensible cost proposition. Mobike, Urbo and Ofo all started out at a fantastically cheap 50p per bike but soon ended up having to charge £2 to start – the bus is cheaper, and Santander Cycles are the same price and more reliable. Lime launched with a fee that is quite widely acknowledged as being way too expensive – a five minute journey costs more than a bus or out-of-Zone-1 tube trip. JUMP have found a sensible medium, with £1 to start but then the first 5 minutes free, and then 12p/min. Finally, they have invested to tackle the biggest problem with London dockless bikeshare systems at present – poorly parked bikes cluttering up pavements, being an eyesore and generally annoying everyone. They are achieving this by starting with a small number of bikes – but also the bikes come with cable locks rather than the “wheel locks” seen on the other dockless systems. The lock is long enough to loop around a bike parking stand or through a fence. They are not initially requiring users to do this at the end of their journey, but I wouldn’t be suprised if they mandate this in the future, in order to better control street clutter and theft – the two biggest issues with bikeshares in London thus far.
Perhaps most importantly of all, JUMP is owned by Uber, and this means the bikes are in the Uber app as an option to booking a cab driver. This is a really big deal. In London, only dedicated enthusiasts will download a dedicated app for occasionally bikeshare usage – if you want to use Lime Bike, you have to install the Lime Bike app – but a lot of people have the standard navigation apps on their phone – Google Maps, CityMapper – and Uber. Now, one of those apps suddenly has bikeshare fully integrated in. If it’s £5 to get an Uber home but the app tells you about an electric-assist bike 100m away and that it will only cost you £2 – it’s a no-brainer. You access the bikes through the regular Uber app – press the toggle at the top and choose “Bikes”:
Uber are saying that it is only possible to book a bike when you are in the operating area – this should manage usage quite effectively, particularly as the operating area is large and contains many potential trips (i.e. north inner London into the City and parts of the West End). Right now, the bikes are all reporting their location at a warehouse just off Blackhorse road in east London, but presumably they will be driven (or cycled – that would be nice) down to Angel, Highbury, Finsbury Park, Old Street and other key locations in the borough, for the formal launch later this morning:
From a research perspective, Uber have committed to releasing aggregated data about how their bikeshare is used, similar to what they already do for Uber cab journeys. We haven’t got live GBFS bike locations for JUMP in London, unlike for JUMP in many other cities in the US, but only because we in the UK are poor at asking operators to provide this – but you can’t have everything!
I think that, finally, we might have a dockless bikeshare in London, that works for London.
The Guardian newspaper has published an online article about the rise and fall of dockless bikeshare, focusing on the pure dockless systems in England (there aren’t any in the rest of the UK) that grew in 2017, and then shrank last autumn. The article extensively used some of the geospatial boundary data that I have – you can can see this on Bike Share Map. It also used some estimated counts and also looked ahead.
Meanwhile, there are various clues as to the next wave of dockless bikeshare, here in London. It looks like there are going to be at least five, possibly six players this year that will be complementing and/or competing with the incumbent Santander Cycles system that still has more bikes on the streets (10000) than all the pretenders put together:
Mobike, after their summer expansion and autumn radical contraction, appear to have got things under control and have started expanding again. They remain operating in two main areas – in west London (around Ealing, Acton & Chiswick) where they are not competing with Santander Cycles, and in central London (Camden Town, Bloomsbury, Angel, Bankside and the City of London) where they do. They are keeping their operating areas small, and their densities high, and are staying out of the inner city London areas where they will have had great numbers of their bikes stolen and vandalised. This is an eminently sensible business decision even if it restricts the usefulness of the system in a broader London context. Their fleet is largely upgraded to the Lite model which is much more comfortable to ride. No sign of any pedelec (electric assist) yet. They still have a very high out-of-zone charge, which coupled with their often changing operating boundaries means that users need to do some research before hiring, to avoid unexpected penalties. This lessens the scan-and-go readiness of the systems. There are around 1800 in the fleet currently.
Lime‘s pedelec system was looking good, with a carefully run system with no penalties for starting/finishing out-of-zone (as long as you don’t go out of London itself). Although I found the actual cycling experience not amazing, I am probably not the target market, and right now it is making a positive contribution to London’s Mobility as a Service (MaaS) options. However… Lime in the US have had a change of policy recently, switching all their pedelecs to escootershare. This doesn’t bode well for London in the long term, as the large MaaS companies are all about economy of scale. Maybe London will be quickly and genuinely profitable for them, and they’ll keep running the system here. We shall see. They currently have around 1400 bikes in their fleet in London.
Beryl’s Secret Cycles pedelecs remain in active pre-launch development. They are being developed right here in London and the group are taking time to get it right. The odd Secret Cycle is occasionally seen on the streets of London, and a council test is taking place in Enfield. It looks like they will, after launching in Bournemouth, be bringing their system to Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, and presumably also Enfield. There are currently around 10 in their fleet, none for public use.
Freebike pedelecs are currently being tested by Waltham Forest council employees, so it may be launching there at some point soon. However, a City of London decision suggests they may also be coming to the heart of the capital too. This is a small place so having all the various operators in here could be interesting. However, half a million people do commute into the so-called Square Mile every working day, so there is always going to be a big focus here. There are currently around 10 in their fleet, none for public use.
JUMP pedelecs are also likely coming. Their parent, Uber, had a job posting out for a London-based operations/field manager. With Lime’s US pedelec retreat, JUMP are the sole US-based pedelec system and are increasingly finding they are the only bidders for US city dockless systems. London’s competition will be harder, thanks in no small part to escootershare remaining illegal here. JUMP will likely go big when they launch. They will also be able to leverage their huge existing base of London Uber users – no separate app needed!
Finally, and this is pure speculation on my part, but YoBike runs some reasonably successful systems in Bristol and Southampton. The platform that YoBike is part of is SharingOS, and they are based in London. I am sure they would to have a physical system a little closer to their base.
If there are going to be 5+ systems in central London, then the authorities are really going to have to get their act together re managing parking for these fleets. A mass expansion of cycle parking hoops, or taping rectangles on pavements for them, is going to be needed.
A puncture on my own bicycle on my way in to work this morning found me grinding to a halt outside Manor House station – not the worst place to have a flat tyre, as the tube from there will take me into work in around 20 minutes with just one change, for £2.40. (The other option was a single bus for £1.50, taking 30 minutes – although easily longer if it gets snarled up in traffic). But as I dropped my bike off in the bike stands beside the entrance, I noticed another bike – a chunky, green-and-yellow coloured beast. It was a Lime-E bike – London’s only (so far – others coming) electric bikeshare, also parked beside (but not chained to) a stand:
It was well out of zone but Lime (currently) allows hires starting and finishing out of zone – a pragmatic decision presumably based on the lack of cross-borough policy, the bikes being relatively well managed by the operator, and there not being too many of them cluttering up and causing non-user complaints:
I hadn’t tried Lime so far, although it launched last December – I was put off by the £1/hire+15p/minute cost – that adds up quickly. But, I needed to get to work and it was right there. Surely this bike could prove to be an effective alternative mode of transport, for my immediate commute requirement?
I already had the app installed on my Huawei smartphone, but had not put in payment details – only when trying to scan did it prompt for a payment card. Android Pay stepped in to automatically add my credit card details, however Lime didn’t like the two-digit year supplied by Android, requiring a reenter of that section.
The app confirmed that this was a hireable bike and that it had a decent amount of charge on it – 86km! I could almost get to Oxford with that:
Then, a rescan and the bike unlocked with a click in a couple of seconds. (Interestingly, the wheel-lock was quite a small one, not the chunky ones that appear on Mobikes now to try and stop rampant theft of them.) Something (the bike, battery or the app – not sure!) played a jolly tune to indicated success, and I was off. Unfortunately I quickly noticed the bike loudly jolted with each wheel turn – possibly a buckled spoke or other problem with the wheel – it was not enough for me to abandon the journey, but was not something I would leave before fixing. Later on, something else made a plastic rattling noise at the back of the bike every time I pedalled. Maintenance (or lack of it) was a problem with the non-electric dockless bikeshares in London. I was hoping that the more expensive electric bikes would have a more rigorous repair regime. Maybe they do and I was just unlucky.
The initial acceleration boost given by the battery was great – straight across the lights and down to Finsbury Park. However, almost immediately it just felt like a regular bike – there was still a boost at faster speeds, but it felt like it was just countering the heavy battery, rather than genuinely making it easier than a regular bike. I didn’t feel slower than my regular bike – but it didn’t feel like it was any less effort either. There is only one gear, so the only thing you can do other than pedal, is to ring the handlebar bell. The gearing is OK – it’s certainly better than the Mobike/Ofo/Urbo ultra-cautious setting.
I was keen to measure the “configuration” for the electric-assist, so stopped after around 3km, at the bottom of the main remaining uphill on the route – up Camden Road past the old Holloway Prison – to attach my Beeline smart compass – not for its primary navigation purpose, but to get an idea of the speed I was travelling at. The speedometer function has rather nice analogue-style needle, and was a useful way to see my speed without looking at my phone, even if it is based on my phone’s GPS and therefore lags by a few seconds.
It was undoubtably nice to accelerate up the hill with the battery doing the initial work. It seems that, between 0km/h and around 12km/h, the battery does most of the work. From around 12km/h to 20km/h (my normal peddling speed) it gives a slight assist – not really noticeable but presumably useful for longer journeys. From 20km/h to the legal maximum 25km/h I’m not convinced the battery was helping at all – or if it was, it was just partly countering the weight. It was hard to pedal the bike above 25km/h even downhill on a clear road – but that’s presumably by design – bikeshare is generally meant for quieter roads and less experienced users, where a slower speed is safer, rather than me trying to match the vehicular traffic on a sometimes busy “red route” major road.
However, it would be nice to have a much bigger boost between 12km/h and 20km/h, so that you only have to be doing significant peddling work at the top of the range. I feel more tired out than I would have on my own normal pretty cheap road bike. It took me 22 minutes to get in – exactly the same amount of time as my own bike would have. Average speed 19km/h according to my smartwatch – pretty standard for me. Certainly my fastest journey on a bikeshare bike in London.
I parked my bike alongside a Santander Cycles rack. There was also a Mobike there. I really like the idea of dockless cycling bikes being available at the “empty” ends of Santander Cycles docking stations – it seems an “obvious” place to leave them, it’s also a good place to “advertise” to people who are in need of a bikeshare of some sorts. (Incidentally, the poster in the Lime basket refers parking in the “sidewalk” twice – needs some UK localisation here, we call them pavements!)
A bit of bill shock though – £4.30, as it was a 22 minute journey (£1 hire + 15p/minute for 22 minutes.) The £1 was, at least, waived as this was my first ride and I was on a referral (btw use my referral code RVDG4MS if you want your own). The pricing structure means that the temptation to (safely) jump red lights was strong – much more so than on my own bike. There are a lot of traffic lights on the route and everytime I hit red on one of the bigger junctions, it will have cost me 15 pence. That’s, unfortunately, a pretty powerful financial incentive to break the law. I didn’t (obvs) – but I can sympathise somewhat with the Uber Eats and Deliveroo cyclists who are numerous in London but aren’t the greatest at obeying the rules… for them, like the many delivery vans in central London getting tickets for illegal parking, the speed/penalty balance is tilted towards bad behaviour.
Also, my suspicion is that Lime are making the same cost-saving/risky approach that Mobike/Urbo/Ofo et al have done so – they don’t use have GPS on the bike itself, but are primarily using the GPS on your smartphone. In Lime’s case they may have a SIM card or emergency GPS for retrieving a missing bike – but not in regular operation. When I stopped at the bottom of the hill on Camden Road, I switched away from the Lime app (but had it open in the background) to the Beeline app, to activate my device’s functionality and start sending it GPS information. Unfortunately, it looks like this stopped the Lime app from recording my location – although the clock kept ticking. So, it looks like I only did a 2.5km journey, not the full 7km:
This issue may be a Huawei/Android 6.0 thing – it could be because the Lime app doesn’t have permissions to access the GPS in the background – or Huawei’s battery “optimisation” cuts off its connection in the background anyway – this has already caused me problems – but it should have been clear to the app that if it wasn’t getting GPS information from my phone, it should be using the bike’s – so I don’t think the bike has any, or it’s not used.
I also didn’t switch back to my Lime app immediately on finishing the ride – I just drew the lock catch back and felt a buzz from the phone that was confirming the ride was finished – a couple of Lime notifications on my lockscreen also indicated that it had detected the journey finish. But – I only unlocked my phone and switched to the app once I had walked ~200m further into the UCL courtyard. The app has then marked the bike as being in the UCL courtyard, not where it actually is (which I am showing here as the green pin to the north):
This might be quite tricky to someone trying to find the bike – they’d need to head out of UCL, along Gower Street, and then up Gower Place to find it. It looks like Lime again used my phone GPS as soon as it could – well after the ride finish – so has recorded the wrong location.
It may be that it will later use any SIM card on the bike to triangulate its location correctly (or even its GPS if it has it – I suspect not) and snap back to Gower Place. But, this kind of asset tracking trouble is a nightmare both for users (they can’t find the bike) and the operators (they can’t find it either!). This is one of the reasons Ofo essentially failed – they couldn’t find their own bikes but with the higher costs of electric bikes, I’m really suprised to see it again. In mitigation – there are very tall buildings here and the street is narrow – so it could be a simple GPS error too. Indeed, as well as the “lime symbol” (bike location) being wrong, the blue dot (my location) is also wrong – I’m standing at the “crosshairs” symbol on the map above when I took this screenshot.
(Update: As I suspected, the bike does have communication capabilities of its own – it has “phoned home” after an hour or so, and the location has updated to be much closer to its actual location)
So, to conclude, getting a Lime-E to work didn’t work out for me – it cost more than the tube, and took longer, and still required a lot of pedalling. However, I’m not the target user I suspect – it’s people who wouldn’t be cycling anyway, and just want an easy way to get around, not in a great rush, and maybe with a little bit of exercise but nothing too strenuous. I don’t think most parts of London have enough hills, to make the relatively high cost of Lime worth it here – although I would love to try it out on Swains Lane. Maybe a user-configurable app option could change the profile on the bike, to allow a decent boost between 20-25km/h.
I think electric bikeshare has a place in London. We aren’t quite there with Lime. They are doing a lot of things right – not overwhelming the streets, looking after their fleet fairly well (I never see them knocked over) and allowing sensible usage anywhere – but they are also making some of the mistakes which the older dockless companies (Ofo/Urbo/Mobike) also made in London. They are also, like almost all the other companies in the space here, not sharing their bike locations publicly/openly. You either have to open the specific app for the operator, or happen to see a bike when you weren’t expecting it (like me today). If Google Maps, Transit or CityMapper had told me of these, then surely they would be used more and more effectively. Get your GBFS feeds out there, bikeshare companies, regardless of if you are mandated to (big American cities) or not, and let people find your fleet in new and better ways!
I’m not quite convinced we have arrived at the future of smart Mobility as a Service (MAAS) just yet, at least in London, but at least there are various companies working on it. It’s going to be an interesting summer.
I was in Paris just before Christmas, taking part in a workshop at IFSSTAR (Université Paris-Est) on innovations in flow visualisation – GFlowiz. I talked/demonstrated some old and new ways that I and others have shown commute journeys in the UK on the web, looking both at The Great British Bike to Work and TubeCreature (developed with the HERE mapping platform), as well as some tests, with open bikeshare data, of the new React/WebGL/Deck.gl-based Kepler.gl recently developed by the Uber Engineering for interactively visualising large spatial datasets locally in a web browser. Kepler.gl works well with bikeshare flow datasets of up to around a million journeys, which, as CSVs with lat/lon pairs, can be simply downloaded, dragged and dropped into the web application:
I enjoyed the other talks in the workshop too, especially the introduction to flowmap.gl by its creator, Ilya Boyandin of Teralytics.
I had a few hours left after the conference to explore the centre of Paris, so I embarked on a long walk from Forum des Halles to Notre Dame, and then up to Gare du Nord. Paris has undergone a bit of a shared/smart mobility revolution on the quiet, since I last visited a couple of years back. Escootershare has taken advantage of the disastrous start to the relaunch of Velib at the beginning of 2018, and France’s more liberal traffic laws than in the UK, with numerous companies launching their operations there. Some dockless bikeshare systems have had a go, although Ofo at least has now disappeared from Paris, and the trend for the rest doesn’t look good either.
So, along my walk, I noted down all the escooter/bikeshare brands in use that I could see, along with the incumbent Velib service. There were also quite a few personally owned (or possibly white-label shares) that I spotted scooting past, which I didn’t note – for scooters at least, these were in total easily outnumbered by the brands.
Escootershares are, at the moment at least, all dockless, rather than being locked in physical stations, and I believe they tend to get taken in by casual workers overnight for recharging. My walk took place between around 6pm (i.e. end of rushhour) and 8:15pm, and I saw plenty being operated even at the end of the survey interval, so I would presume that the escooters are generally collected after this time.
Overall, I was impressed both by the uptake of these devices, and the care in which they were left after use. I saw no sign of any vandalism (although I did mostly stay in the more touristy parts of central Paris) and very few were inappropriately parked. I can’t say for sure that all the ones I marked as parked upright were not blocking pavements or crossing (e.g. tactile strips, dropped kerbs) in such a way that someone in a large wheelchair might have an issue, but on the whole I got the sense that they were not the pavement intrusions or litter that many of the London dockless bikeshares have become.
So in summary, from my unscientific survey, the dockless bikeshares are not really being used at all, the Limes and Birds are being well used, the new Velib is being used but not in the numbers I would have expected, and they are all generally being left tidily. I have no doubt that, in their current configuration/use level and street scene impact, the escootershares are a positive to the city. They are not cluttering the streets, and those that are there are being well used. There are too many operators, for sure, so some consolidation is needed – no one wants 6 share apps on their phone, but Lime and Bird at least have a good level of usage. It is very sad to see the Mobikes lying around unused, and with so few left, but they were a bike that was, initially at least, not properly designed for the European market. You can’t take shortcuts with new mobility solutions if you want them to actually be solutions. Maybe their lower profile approach will allow them to spot the markets where they can thrive, and give them the flexibility to adapt as necessary.
In London, we’ve moved on a bit from the autumn, where both Ofo and Mobike had retrenched considerably from June’s moment of “peak bikeshare”, even though we’re a long way behind Paris, thanks to escooters essentially being illegal both on pavements and public highways.
Mobike has expanded a little bit again, back to Ealing, although their two operating areas in London are very small. The bikes are generally now always in operator-placed groups, and while these are very visible, there are few bikes which are on their own, suggesting little use by actual genuine users. They’ve massively densified the number of bikes available in the areas, however they have attached “£20 fine for leaving bike out of zone” type stickers to all the bikes – and as these zones have changed several times since launch, I can’t blame users for not daring to use the bikes. I would not be surprised if they were seeing less than 1% of the journeys (or 10% of the j/b/d) of Santander Cycles. They also seem to struggle to monitor where their bikes actually are, or what state they are left in, as the few that are out of the operator-placed groups, are often left knocked down, for days at a time. It’s not a good look on London’s pavements, and it’s an effective way to lose the non-riding public’s sympathy unfortunately.
Ofo’s operating area didn’t shrink down as far, but unlike Mobike they haven’t restocked, so there are very few bikes to be seen anywhere in central London or the other parts of the operating area. It’s almost impossible to find one for a journey, now.
Both stolen Ofos and stolen Mobikes are appearing less often. This is probably because there are less available to steal, and the ones that were stolen are probably in very bad condition now. Occasionally you still see a youth on a stolen one, the bike sounding like it’s about to fall apart.
Lime has launched their ebikeshare in west London (Ealing, parts of which still have Mobike, and Brent, which was supposed to have had Mobike too but didn’t launch). You can’t officially therefore take Lime Bikes into central London. I don’t know if the motor cuts out if you do, but quite a few are appearing in central London anyway, and I think you may even be able to start from here (i.e. out-of-zone). Their starting price is very expensive though – £1 + 15p a minute. This means, after 3 minutes, it would have been cheaper taking the bus, tube or train. £1.50 flat rate for half an hour would have been better. But it’s a start, and though they are not escooters, unlike in Paris, the strength of the Paris operation suggests Lime knows something about how to run these.
There is also an escootershare in London! Bird have launched. However, it is only available on a single route in East London, on park land that is not covered by pavement/public road restrictions. You can scoot your “Bird” between Here East, the former London 2012 Olympic media centre which is now a start-up hub that is currently very poorly connected to tubes/trains, and Stratford station, which is incredibly well connected. Again, they are very expensive – £2.50 a ride. There is a free shuttle bus between the two points, too. So, really, it’s acting as a demonstrator. But, you have to start somewhere for escootershare in the UK and this is a start.
Santander Cycles are still not expanding, and unlikely to ever expand with TfL’s new financial woes and insistence on building very expensive permanent powered docking stations with card terminals, in a high density formation. But they did record five consecutive months this summer with over a million journeys each month. Their fleet seems to be in good working order and popular. I still think a redeployment of some docking stations further out, cheaper app-only stations, and an introduction of a Bike Angels style user rebalancing, would enhance things, but the system/contract is I suspect not set up to encourage radical innovations like this.
I look forward to 2019 as a year in which smart mobility technologies will continue to make cities better places. Look out on this blog for some exciting news, soon.
I recently presented at the CoMoUK Good Mobility Conference in East London, looking at the story of bikeshare in London over the last 12 months ago, touching a little on other systems in the UK.
Here are my slides, slightly updated from the conference itself:
While the core of the presentation was a timeline, numbers and data from London’s bikeshare between last summer and this summer, I took the opportunity to also rate the various UK offerings on their open data provision, and offer some of my thoughts on round 2* of dockless bikeshare which took place this year.
It was great to hear a wide range of presentations at the conference. I particularly liked the Derby presentation. Thanks also to Tim, operator of Derby, for sorting out the GBFS feed. Thank you to CoMoUK for inviting me.
* Round 1 being oBike’s “forgiveness” model back in summer 2017, and round 3 being, I’m sure, American dockless providers “getting it right” next summer.
Having travelled to both Milan and Singapore in the last few weeks, it’s worth a note on the bikeshare provisions there.
Milan – BikeMi, Mobike, Ofo
Milan has BikeMi, a long-serving dock-based bikeshare system, which is one of the nearly 400 city systems that I have mapped in Bike Share map. It covers a big part of the city. There was a docking station close to both my hotel and to the location of the the conference I was attending, however far more noticeable were the numbers of Mobikes around the streets. Ofo also operates in Milan, although their bikes are not as prevalent.
I ended up using Mobike – mainly because I already had the app installed on my smartphone, for my occasional usage in London – and Mobike, like Uber, works nearly seamlessly across the various cities it operates in. This simplicity, combined with the new EU free roaming laws meaning that I can use the app without incurring roaming data charges, and the fact there was one to hire just around the corner, means that Mobike for me won over BikeMi. It’s a problem that dock-based systems are going to struggle with, unless they can somehow collaborate with each other globally. Perhaps a start would be JCDecaux “Cyclocity” systems allowing use across their cities if you are already signed up for another one, and a similar approach for Motivate and Nextbike systems. Although, as each city typically has a monopoly dock-based operator, this approach still has a more limited approach.
(I say nearly seamlessly – both apps struggle a little initially when moving to a new city. In Mobike’s case, the system boundaries generally don’t appear until the app has been restarted a number of times, after moving to a new city. For Ofo, the pricing indication is initially wrong – I’m pretty sure it’s not free!
Mobike and Ofo have not suffered in Milan like their have in London. They both operate throughout the historic centre of the city, and much of the suburbs, rather than being artificially constrained on a borough-by-borough basis like in London, or only operating in small sections of the city by operator choice/resource limitations, like in Oxford and Cambridge.
Milan does not have as much in the way of dedicated cycling infrastructure as London, however I generally found a good level of respect from drivers and felt comfortable moving around the city. It was exceptionally hot when I was visiting (35°C) and although I noticed a few other cyclists and also bikeshare users, there weren’t huge nunbers in London. I noticed that most of the Mobikes were single ones which had been left by the previous user, rather than stacked by the operator, and also more than once they had been left in a position entirely blocking the pavement and meaning the pedestrians had to get onto the street to get past. This is a big problem in many cities where dockless operators run systems – how to get users to park responsibilty. The solution – a combination of user attitudes, rules and facilities, is one that does seem to have been solved for the next city I visited…
In Singapore, there is no dock-based system but a wide variety of dockless operators have bikes here – as well as Ofo and Mobike, there are the home-grown SGBike and GBikes (the latter based on the SharingOS system), and OBike (cobranded GrabCycle) – which started out in Singapore. Both GBikesand OBike have ceased in Singapore, presumably their apps no longer unlock their bikes – but they are both scattered everywhere – or rather, this being Singapore, they are neatly stacked up against trees and fences. Will anyone remove the bikes for companies that have ceased to be?
Singaporians being extremely considerate people, I didn’t notice any bikes blocking pavements, or indeed showing any sign of lock tampering or vandalism. A small number of bikes had damaged wheels. Again, I have both the Ofo and Mobike app on my smartphone, but with no free data, and no particular need to cycle, I didn’t hire any bikes this time.
One thing I noticed over and over again is multiple operators bikes, being stacked neatly together. Sometimes, they were located within a painted rectangle indicating an “official” cross-operator permitted parking location:
Other times they were in “dead” pavement areas, such as traffic islands, where no one would otherwise need to be walking or driving:
There is clearly some city council direct involvement with the operators – in Ofo’s app, there appears a message from the Land Transport Authority about parking neatly:
(Incidentally, GrabCycle is I believe a multi-operator marketplace/broker. I haven’t seen this before for bikeshare, and Ofo and Mobike are not currently part of it – they are presumably “too big” – but I think ultimately cities with multiple competitive bikeshare operators will likely have to eventually enforce/insist on allowing the bikes to be used through marketplaces. No one wants to have six bikeshare apps installed on their phone, and no city wants six incompatible bikeshare bikes sitting on every street corner, each only useable by a separate dedicated app.)
The central part of the city, at least, is not as bikeable (or walkable) as Milan – with large roads and the lack of much in the way of dedicated cycle lanes, the only cyclists generally seen were on riverside paths and in parks. Pedestrians also can come to junctions without any crossings – except perhaps by a nearby overpass. It’s all very well having a marked parking bay, but if it’s beside a huge road with no cycle lane, is anyone going to use it?
The high temperature (30°C) and humidity, characteristic of the city state throughout the year, doesn’t make it the greatest place for comfortable or leisure cycling. I saw almost no-one using the dockless bikeshare bikes, even through are are loads waiting to be used, but I did see plenty of people on eScooters – both for-hire ones and private ones. It is only a matter of time before these become huge in London.
Intriguingly, there may note be a dock-based bikeshare system in Singapore – but I did notice these bike docks. They are “semi-smart” docks – they have an electronic lock that just locks the front wheel, but they are small and unobtrusive, presumably much easier and cheaper to put in than London’s hard-wired, “street furniture” type docks. They were, here, being used as spaces to keep Ofos, rather than by the bikes they were designed for:
I did notice a number of interesting varients of both Mobikes and Ofos. They have been in the city longer than they have been in the UK, and so a greater number of models are on the streets – but as well as older versions, there are newer ones that have not made it yet to Europe. These newer ones generally look chunkier, with bigger locks.
Here’s a Mobike with a rather nice frame painting detail, an unusually chunky looking lock, and solar panels in the front basket:
Here’s an Ofo with a very chunky appearance, particularly the tires, which look like they could withstand anything. They are solid, but with lots of holes drilled through the rubber to presumably reduce weight and possibly generate a warning whistle (not really):
Notice also the SGBike and Mobike parked neatly beside by other users. Off the pavement, off the road, not knocked down. London, you have a lot to learn.
I did get the feeling that bikeshare might be a spent force in at least the central part of Singapore (I did not visit the suburbs) and eScooters may already have taken their place here. Coupled with Singapore not being a particularly cycling friendly city – certainly compared to London – I wonder if the only thing remaining is for the city council to sweep up the unused bikes for the bust operators, and tell the others ones it’s time to move on? I understand that the council has recently tightened up the regulations for bikeshare in the city, making it harder for the companies to operate, but a necessity in a city with the layout and streetscape like Singapore’s.
Dockless bikeshare has been out in London for around 10 months now (not withstanding the brief but spectacular oBike launch and burnout in mid 2016). It looks like the operators are getting serious and trying to get dockless bikeshare to pay for itself – starting a transition from a “growth” to “profit” focus:
Mobike has introduced an out-of-operating-area fee of £10 for London (left). Interestingly, this is only £5 for Oxford (right), where arguably the competition is even more fierce:
It isn’t clear whether you can continue to start journeys from outwith the operating area, but you must finish within them to avoid the fee. However, you can also get the fee waived by taking any Mobike from outside the operating area, back inside it, within 12 hours. It could be the bike you took outside, or another one. This is interesting – let the user help the system work better. You either fix the problem (bikes outside areas the operator can manage effectively, or don’t have permission to be in) or pay the operator to do it for you.
Mobike is making a bigger deal of its hubs now, showing the numbers of bikes currently available at them. Bikes in a circular buffer around each hub are reported as at the point in some cities (Oxford – left) but individually in others (London – right). This makes them a little more like a hybrid system, with certain locations generally having a reliable pool of bikes available, but with out-of-hub parking still available to keep the system flexible. At this point, there is no user incentive for hub-based journey finishes or starts.
Mobike have also shrunk their operating areas – in Islington, it now doesn’t extend north of Holloway. Presumably Mobike are tired of moving their bikes back up the hill to Archway and Highgate, only to have everyone cycle them back down. However they have extended into a small part of Hackney – the De Beauvoir Town area. They have also shrunk their Southwark footprint, so that the bikes can only be used north of the South Circular, and their western footprint has also shrunk – no service in west Hounslow, Feltham, Southall or Greenford now. They has also completely pulled out of Newham. Looking at their app, it never looked like there were many bikes available for use there anyway. You can see the area of operation here (orange border).
In addition they have significantly increased their usage fee. Initially it was 50p for 30 minutes. Now, it is 50p for 20 minutes on the smaller-frame bikes with black baskets (show as orange on their map), or £1 for 20 minutes on the larger-frame bikes with orange baskets (shown as white on their map). [Updated 12 July – now £1 for 20 minutes for all their bikes.] [Updated 1 August – now 99p/20 minutes.]
Ofo has also increased their usage fee, it is now 70p for 30 minutes. [Updated August – now £1 for 30 minutes.] So, in places where both systems operate, the small Mobikes are cheaper for journeys up to 20 minutes, the Ofos are cheaper for 20-30 minute journeys, the small Mobikes are cheaper for 30-40 minute journeys etc etc…
Subsequent Journeys in next 24h
Ofo and Mobike are also now showing specific forbidden areas on their app. This is interesting, because I assumed that all areas outside of their operating area were forbidden. Presumably these are extra-problematic areas for the operators. Ofo has marked various royal parks as forbidden areas, while Mobike has marked canal-sides, the London Bridge station complex, and large public parks, as forbidden. Mobike’s out-of-operating-area areas allow journeys to finish but the user (only) is then encouraged to move the bike back into an operating area within 12 hours, it is locked out of use for others.
This means that in effect there are five types of dockless system geofences, with four being shown on the maps in the Mobike and Ofo apps:
Shown in app as points overlaid on green-bordered rectangles. Parking here encouraged, occasionally incentivised with free next ride coupons.
Shown as points, but a blue circular buffer is shown on clicking it. Parking here encouraged but not incentivised.
Show as green-bordered areas
Shown as blue shaded/bordered areas
Out of operating area
Shown as regular map. Parking locks bike for user-only redistribution back.
Shown as regular map. Parking results in fine, unless it (or another) is taken back in in 12 hours by the user, but still available for use.
Shown as red shaded/bordered areas. Parking may result in credit drop or penalty.
Shown as grey shaded/bordered areas. Parking may result in credit drop or penalty.
Out of region
Not shown by either. But I assume there is a distance, out of the operating area, beyond which the operator would not seek to recover the bike into the operating area, but might sanction the user instead. For London, the GLA boundary might act as such an area
Meanwhile, the third dockless player in London, Urbo, has announced it is quitting the three London boroughs it is operating in – Enfield, Waltham Forest and Redbridge. Enfield will announce a replacement “soon”, Waltham Forest is getting Ofo in instead, and Redbridge already has Ofo. The numbers don’t sound great – only 6000 journeys in Waltham Forest in 5 months, on a fleet of 250 – so 20 journeys a day, or 0.16 journeys/bike/day, and 3000 miles clocked up in Enfield, again in 5 months, on a fleet of 100 – so (assuming average journey of 1 mile) 0.2 journeys/bike/day. This means these bikes are spending 99.8% of their time not being used (assuming an average journey of 15 minutes).
Barnet had just announced that Urbo was coming there, and Barking & Dagenham was due to sign-off Urbo coming there in July – I would speculate that these launches may be off. Urbo, an Irish company from the start, has just been bought by the operator of several bikeshare systems in towns in Ireland, and it has just launched Dublin, where it has access to the whole of the city. Just like in London, Dubliners likely want to cycle throughout the urban area and not within arbitrary political boundaries. So that would likely be where the London Urbo bikes are going.
Numbers of bikes and journeys are generally hard to come by for dockless bikeshare – the companies themselves have good commercial reasons for being coy with the numbers. In some cases, the operator will have fewer bikes out on the streets than they say – as they just don’t have that many (working) bikes – Santander Cycles have consistently overstated the numbers of bikes out there . The opposite can also be true – where dockless operators have agreed maximum numbers of bikes with boroughs, and then see these numbers be exceeded as users cycle over from neighbouring boroughs, or operations necessitate. There is little data, so we generally have to go on press releases:
Number of Ofos, Mobikes and Urbos in London
I am adjusting the following table as I get better information:
In better news, both Ofo and Mobike are both continuing to expand in London this summer, in areas where they do think dockless bikeshare will work. Mobike should be coming to Haringey soon, while Ofo have today announced their forthcoming expansions – Camden launches this week, with Waltham Forest following shortly (this week, says the borough at least), followed by Wandsworth and Hammersmith & Fulham. This means yellow bikes will soon be appearing in Bloomsbury, Fizrovia, Camden Town, Kentish Town, Highgate, Belsize Park, West Hampstead, Walthamstow, Chingford, Leyton, White City, Hammersmith, Fulham, Putney, Wandsworth, Battersea, Balham, west Clapham and Earlsfield.