This blog post is intended to look at the pros and cons of each approach to bike sharing.
Bike sharing started in the 1960s, when bikes were freely shared in Amsterdam. The difficulty was that bikes were often stolen.
Lock systems were then introduced – 2nd generation biking, and became relatively popular in some cities, particularly in Germany. 3rd generation bike sharing, in common use today, uses electronic methods to detect and track a particular bike.
Current costs for each bike in a public bike sharing scheme are US$3000 – US$5000, which has meant that only a limited number of cities have been able to front the investment required.
Peer to peer bike sharing is an alternative sharing scheme. Using the power of location services on mobile phones, and the social network of existing bike owners, bikes can be added to the scheme at no cost other than communicating the message to their owners. The bikes already exist as personal bikes, it is simply a matter of matching up the right person to the right bike at the right time.
However as of writing the 3rd generation sharing schemes still have some advantages:
- Costs for end usage are zero for short trips (expensive for longer ones to recoup the investment however)
- There is no need to return the bike to the original location
Advantages for peer to peer schemes
- Costs for end usage are usually administered on a low daily basis, which means there is no dash for the nearest station
- Near zero costs for adding new bikes to the scheme
- Scalability, worldwide
Perhaps the best approach is to have a combined 3rd generation sharing scheme with a peer to peer model to enhance it.
Disadvantages of the 3rd generation model include
- Bikes become mis-distributed, meaning a service provider must maintain the set of bikes
- Lack of scalability to outside a given area
- Inability to handle large volumes of traffic in one busy area (Waterloo station in London was a prime example).
Disadvantages of peer to peer model include
- Bikes must be returned to their original location
- Some hand-over is needed of the bike (although there are solutions in development for this)
A little history: the idea for peer to peer bike sharing came from a novel journey that I had to do in July 2010 (limited by not having access to a car at the time). I needed to travel to somewhere 5-6 miles away from the Bedford train station in England on a regular basis from London. A taxi was prohibitively expensive, but I was relying on someone to offer me a lift. I soon grew tired of this and had the idea of taking a bike, leaving it at the station and then using it once a week to do my trip there and back. But with this in mind I then had an ‘asset’ sitting at Bedford station during the week. Why not rent this out to someone who could make use of it? As it happened I was also involved in web development, and in particular location based services. If I could rent out my bike, why couldn’t other people rent out theirs when they’re not using them also?
All that was needed was a location based search engine and a payment model. I say all, but development of the site, while originally only taking a matter of hours/days, naturally expanded into a fuller system as time progressed.
The resulting site can be found at http://byke.mobi It was also the work of my family of advisors, so I thank them for their input too.