Why Dockless Bicycle Sharing Has the Potential to Disrupt the Way We Commute?
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Merely a few decades ago, the humble bicycle was a common sight on Indian roadways. Fast forward to now and we see the streets and its inhabitants choking in the toxic fumes. The mobility is threatened as there is just not enough space – big vehicles dominate the main roads and smaller, the side lanes. As a result, traffic jams have become an inescapable, perpetual part of our lives.
However, when pressed with the challenges of a lack of mobility and increasing level of toxic emissions and pollution by motor vehicles, revitalizing cycling presents with plausible solutions. In India, we are already witnessing an increased preference for recreational cycling. The introduction of dockless bicycle sharing takes the same a notch higher. Dockless bicycles as a preferred mode of short, last-mile commute, has the potential to disrupt the mobility hassles, while also presenting an eco-friendly mean of travel.
There are no STOPS in the Dockless Bicycle Sharing
While the advent of metro services did help relieve the commuting woes, a recent study by CRRI had a slightly different story to tell. As per the report, a major part of the commute time is spent in reaching the station and back. This often results in the commuters paying extra for short-miles, in addition to being hassled. Besides, the currently available docked systems – some of which can be spotted across popular metro stations, don’t help much in relieving the woes, as the bicycles need to be parked back at these stations.
The advent of dockless bicycle sharing brings in a wave of disruption in this status quo, by completely eliminating the need for docking stations. The growing adoption of Internet of Things and GPS services has revamped the humble, age-old bicycle into a ‘smart’ bike. Controlled by a centralized app, these IoT-enabled bicycles can only be unlocked via QR codes and are always on the radar, owing to the fully integrated GPS systems of today. Doing away with the physical keys and docking stations, these bikes can be parked anywhere in the city – of course, with the exceptions of gated communities, private compounds, etc. Users looking for a quick ride can easily locate these bikes in the vicinity via the mobile app and pay digitally for a short ride!
Daily commuters that were previously averse to cycling, due to lack of time and easy availability can now enjoy a healthier last- or first-mile commute, with absolutely no toxic emissions, and without having to settle for either overpriced or inconvenient short-mile rides.
The Benefits are a Plenty
A new concept in India, the Dockless Bicycle Sharing has made its presence felt in a number of economies around the globe. While looking for a successful case study, we need not go that much further beyond. Our neighbouring country, China, has over 20 million smart bikes on the road.
The benefits of enabling dockless bicycle sharing are a plenty. For instance, it not only presents a healthier commuting alternative but also solves the issues pertaining to first and last mile connectivity. As the bicycles no longer warrant establishing an expensive docking station or its tedious maintenance and safekeeping, users can typically take the bike anywhere and just park it safely.
At this point, it is also interesting to quote the example of Dallas. Driven to solve the challenges of growing pollution levels and sedentary lifestyles, the officials decided to roll in a docked bike-share program. However, the cost of starting with 400 bikes, docking stations and its maintenance for five years would have amounted to USD 6 million. Eventually, the plan was dropped in the face of colossal upfront investment, with the authorities deciding to spend the same money elsewhere. Such a problem would not exist with dockless bicycle sharing since there is no upfront cost for setting up docks or maintaining them. While the smart bikes may come at a cost, that is the only investment and one can always start small and scale up with time.
Continuing with the benefits of dockless bicycle sharing, the payments can be done seamlessly via digital transactions, based on the hourly or monthly plan opted for. Besides, since the Smart bikes come with integrated IoT-enabled tracking devices, any chances of theft etc are completely nullified. Owing to the integrated technology, the bikes can be monitored and maintained remotely, offering the perfect ease and connect.
At this point, it is necessary to also cite an example of successful implementation of Dockless biking system. As per the Transport Commission of Shenzhen, there was a 10% downfall in the use of private cars, after the launch of dockless bike sharing. Reducing the number of private cars on the road would definitely prove a win in the Indian context, given the perpetual traffic jams.
The Future Scope & Need for Support by the Government
Dockless bicycle sharing promises to bring radical changes in the way we Indians have grown accustomed to commuting. However, these set of radical changes cannot be implemented overnight. In order to bring dockless bicycle sharing to mainstream prominence and acceptance, we would need to resolve a set of following factors:
Making bikes available
This is merely a first step towards bringing back cycling as a form of commute. While the private players have stepped up as the flag-bearer of this change, the government should step in and make the environment more conducive for the same to flourish. Besides, since the smart bikes are parked without a dock, we would need to think about making the same easily available. While commuters will be circulating the bikes, certain parties may also be needed to ensure availability of bikes in certain locations during peak hours. Simply put, along with the government support, a system for redistribution is mandatory for the success of dockless bicycle sharing.
There are two sets of challenges when it comes to usability: first, the availability of bikes and second, the conditions of the roads. And while more bikes can be brought into circulation, certain roads are simply off-limits to a common biker. There are only a limited number of roads with dedicated lanes for cycling. While the dockless bicycle sharing is going to help users reach the destinations faster, we also need to resolve the latter challenge, in order to make the change sustainable.
In the end, the responsibility would fall on the shoulders of the authorities in power. While the private sector holds the key to technology and disrupting the cumbersome traffic crippling the roads, the Government of India should consider levelling up the playing field in the favour of cyclers.