Dockless in Sydney: The Rise and Decline of Bikesharing in Australia.

Recent working paper:

Percentage of static bikes in Pyrmont by company and day (Bikes unmoved for 48h or more)

In mid-2017, dockless, (or stationless) bikesharing appeared on the streets of Sydney. The birth of dockless bikesharing, its evolution as well as its consequences, and use habits are studied with review of policies and field investigations. It is found that bicycle use in Sydney is less than hoped for, vandalism is high, regulations unfavourable, and thus, the conditions for successful bikesharing are not met.

Does bike sharing have a future in Australia?

I was interviewed by Jonathan Hair last month for the ABC on The World Today. Does bike sharing have a future in Australia? My bit is at 2:20.

It seems soon you’ll be hard pressed to find ‘dockless bicycles’ in some of Australia’s biggest cities.

One bike sharing company has announcing it’s shutting up shop here, and the future of a number of others is in doubt.

But one expert believes there’s a way for the companies to continue to operate here, by harvesting your travel data.

Duration: 2min 53sec

Broadcast:
More Information

Featured:

Professor Emmanuel Josserand, UTS
Professor David Levinson, University of Sydney

Dockless bikesharing survey

I have a student who is conducting a survey about dockless bikesharing in Sydney … ​ Please complete, and share.

Docks Off: U.S. cities are being invaded by dock-less bike share.

Henry Grabar at Slate writes: Docks Off: U.S. cities are being invaded by dock-less bike share. It’s going to be messy—and worth it.

I was interviewed, but the email quote was used:

`Of course, it is easier to take a photo of 1,000 discarded bicycles than 60 million rides a day. I asked David Levinson, a professor of transportation [sic, he meant `transport’] at the University of Sydney, whether dock-less bike share was a VC-funded bubble or the future of short-distance transportation.

“Yes,” he wrote back. “It’s like the internet in 1999.”’

A good overview of the issue. I think cities will need to develop bike drop off areas on each blockface, somewhere in verge (boulevard, grassy strip). Bikeshare companies will need to geofence more accurately to ensure bikes are dropped there. This will resolve much of the problem.


Also see: Peter Simek in D Magazine (2017-12-19) Is This the Future of Dallas’ Bike Share Experiment. That article quotes the above quote.

On Stationless Bike Sharing in Sydney

Since I have moved to Sydney, which is to say, very recently, Sydney has seen the emergence of stationless bike sharing. I saw this in China in May, and now it is here. Technology deploys very quickly these days. I signed up for the first entrant, Reddy Go quickly, and gave them a deposit, but didn’t get around to trying to use it til last week. I also registered for oBike this weekend, after getting a 10 free rider voucher (Voucher Code SHARE) for signing up.

Not Reddy, No Go.

A broken Reddy-Go
A broken Reddy-Go

I said “trying to use it” as I was not successful. My first attempt was during the week. I had a breakfast appointment on Kensington Street and was in Chippendale, a nice residential area. It seemed like this would be a good opportunity to use the service without running into too much vehicle traffic, which makes long distance cycling very dangerous. Now biking in Sydney (NSW) is officially discouraged through helmet laws and lack of facilities (and shrinking at that) and heavy fines, though it is officially encouraged by words on plans. I wouldn’t let my kids ride in traffic, as the car drivers are more aggressive than in the US. But Chippendale is mostly traffic calmed.

I pulled out the app, scanned the bar code, and was told via the app, that sorry, this bike cannot be used. I don’t know why. I retried it a couple of times and walked to my destination.

Yesterday, my oldest son saw a Reddy Go, in Alexandria Park,  and tried to climb it and ride, but it was locked. Fortunately I had the app. I tried again just to see if it worked, since the kids had been bikeless for a few months.  It would not unlock. I subsequently noticed it was vandalized, and the spokes on the back wheel were bent out of shape (not accidentally). I reported this via the app.

O, a Bike.

A dirty OBike
A dirty oBike

Well, I signed up for oBike as well, having obtained a coupon card. In Alexandria Park, I saw an oBike, maybe I will try that. It was filthy, as if someone had taken it dirt-bike riding. Unlikely. I saw another oBike. Someone had piled dirt (I hope it was dirt) on the seat. Pass. Finally I saw a clean oBike, tried to unlock that. It actually worked. oReka.

My oldest son put on the helmet (I hope no lice) (probably violating terms of service), and rode around the park. Then my younger son tried it, but his legs were too short. I tried it. I adjusted the seat (which was easy, as these are fairly new bikes, not rusted out yet), put on the helmet, and rode. It rode fine, a bit heavy, with no obvious gears (but a bell, where the gears should be), so it tired my legs more than it should have. After a few minutes I ended the ride. Now how to lock it. I eventually discovered this is a physical mechanism. I put the helmet back somewhere (this is not at all clear where it should go). And left it. I hope it was properly checked out. I have not received a nasty-gram, so I assume I am fine.

Vandalism.

A pile of dirt on an OBike Seat
A pile of dirt on an oBike Seat

So this vandalism thing is a problem. In Minnesota, the bike shares were all station-based, so everything was tidy, and it seemed vandalism was a minimum. Perhaps it is something in the Australian (or Sydney) character that leads to the additional vandalism compared with Minnesota? Perhaps it is just because they are randomly placed and not station-based.  There have been news stories lately about bikes in the rivers. Perhaps Sydney-siders or Australians just dislike bikes, the way they dislike immigration by boat. Despite the massive number of shared bikes in China, it didn’t seem to be much of an issue there. Perhaps because of higher utilization, or it is more of a a biking culture, or perhaps because the communist Chinese are more respectful of property than capitalist Australia?

Next Steps

Finally, a successful ride
Finally, a successful ride

The next steps are probably mostly steps rather than rides. I may ask for a refund from Reddy Go, still debating whether to give them another chance. I will test oBike a few more times, but the protected bike lane network is Sydney is not terribly useful to me. (The walk to work wouldn’t be a bad ride, iffy in a few places, mostly around Redfern where there are many pedestrians, but it’s not a bad walk either).

Growth of Bike Sharing Systems Globally | The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport

Bike sharing systems have grown in many cities worldwide From Levinson and Krizek (2015) The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport. http://davidlevinson.org/the-end-of-traffic-and-the-future-of-transport/  Figure 8.3 Source: McCarthy, Niall "Bike Sharing Takes Off" Statista http://www.statista.com/chart/1148/bike-sharing-takes-off/ .
Bike sharing systems have grown in many cities worldwide
From Levinson and Krizek (2015) The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport
Figure 8.3 Source: McCarthy, Niall “Bike Sharing Takes Off” Statista  .

North American Carsharing | The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport

Figure 8.2 shows trends on carsharing in North America. It is not clear where market saturation is, and whether the dip in 2015 is just a data issue or indicative that perhaps ridesharing is stealing some carsharing thunder. Notably carsharing company Shift shuttered in Las Vegas in mid-2015.    From Levinson and Krizek (2015) The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport. http://davidlevinson.org/the-end-of-traffic-and-the-future-of-transport/   Figure 8.2 Source:  Shaheen, Susan and Adam Cohen (2015) Innovative Mobility Carsharing Outlook: Carsharing Market Overview, Analysis, and Trends – Summer 2015 http://innovativemobility.org/?project=innovative-mobility-carsharing-outlook-summer-2015.
Figure 8.2 shows trends on carsharing in North America. It is not clear where market saturation is, and whether the dip in 2015 is just a data issue or indicative that perhaps ridesharing is stealing some carsharing thunder. Notably carsharing company Shift shuttered in Las Vegas in mid-2015.
From Levinson and Krizek (2015) The End of Traffic and the Future of Transport
Figure 8.2 Source: Shaheen, Susan and Adam Cohen (2015) Innovative Mobility Carsharing Outlook: Carsharing Market Overview, Analysis, and Trends – Summer 2015 .

Siege, Surge, and Compression

People don’t like Uber’s surge pricing. The case during the recent Sydney siege was especially controversial. Even though it is just an operationalization of market supply and demand (too much demand, too little supply, raise prices), it has problems.

First, it does not appear to have a mirror. When supply is too large, do prices drop significantly below the base? I think what happens is the drivers queue up (virtually).

Second, it seems to come as a surprise. People say “I started off the evening at regular fares, and end up later that evening with only surge prices available”, this seems unfair.

Other ways to deal with shortages include queueing, which is common on roads during peak hours, since we don’t generally price our roads.

There is a third way though. Compression. We can get more people into cars than we typically do. True shared rides, with multiple parties going to multiple destinations  could be the norm at peak times. This is similar to UberPool and LyftLine. This would split some of the difference between higher fares (more fares should lead to more revenue for drivers) and rationing (more destinations should equal more travel time, for at least one party, if not both, or more). There are of course limits to this, but the typical Uber vehicle holds 5 persons (4 passengers) with some compression of passengers in the back seat. While some parties already have 4 people, many are single or two passengers.

Everyone’s favorite Transportation Network Companies might consider this as an alternative to the surge default.