Shared bicycles: an answer or a nuisance?

City bicycle sheds are overflowing and the shortage of parking spaces is increasing. Shared bikes, like the recently launched oBike in Rotterdam, could help solve this problem. But, as Professor Lucas Meijs of Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) warns: beware that the city doesn’t turn into a bike cemetery.

Bright yellow bicycles from a company based in Singapore: last month oBike’s ‘drove’ into Rotterdam. With an electronic lock that can be opened with an app, you can, after you’ve used it for 50 cents per half hour, leave it anywhere. Other people with the app can locate where it is, and take it on its next spin. Rotterdam hopes oBike may relieve the pressure on the parking sheds.

Bicycle cemeteries
But, warns Professor Lucas Meijs of Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) in newspaper de Volkskrant, we need to be mindful of the potential unwanted effects of this shared bike system. With a group of students Meijs travelled to Shanghai to research how customers experience bicycle-sharing, and discovered heaps of wrongly placed bikes and even bicycle cemeteries full of discarded shared steel.

The eight providers that were fighting over Shanghai flooded the city with hundreds of thousands of bikes. ‘For Rotterdam, that would mean about 10 to 20 thousands extra bikes, all of them left somewhere, leading to a lot of wrongly parked and broken bikes.’ The first shared bikes have already been spotted at the municipal depot.

Regulations needed
In Shanghai, Meijs and his team discovered that although users were satisfied with the service, non-users were irritated by all the bikes parked on sidewalks and near entrances. Some were even annoyed enough to protest by moving, pushing, or even smashing the bikes.

The learning from this Shanghai sharing system acts as a warning for entrepreneurs who are stepping into the shared economy with modern technology. The system calls for government regulations, just like how some cities are currently managing Airbnb – another shared economy system in which users and non-users clash. That means rules as to where the bikes can be parked, and fines for the company in case the rules are broken, are needed.


More about Meijs’ research on the RSM website.


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