Havens: Dropbike’s spring concept and bike sharing’s obvious next step
How working with cities and municipalities is keeping us ahead of the curve.
Bikes, everywhere…except in the worst way possible. Being thrown behind fences, kicked in the middle of sidewalks, fished out of rivers. Bikes on top of buildings and on statues. Bikes, somehow, hung from trees. That’s the version of dockless bike sharing that you’ll see in the news — an image of something once shiny and beautiful, mangled and left to be thrown out. To most people, it’s just the harsh reality — but accepting it as such would be against Dropbike’s values. So over the past few months, we set out to answer a question: how do we solve the chaos of dockless bike sharing?
Many months ago, we started Dropbike to get more people to ride bikes more often. But our plan came with caveats, like a set of internal rules: we would only work with cities, municipalities and other stakeholders to achieve our goal, and we wouldn’t dump bikes on the ground without this partnership. Time and time again, we’ve heard from officials that this is truly the best (and only) path forward, and we’ve also seen those who aren’t as friendly…stumble. By now, most people have realized that bike sharing companies and cities have to work together for either to succeed.
It hasn’t always been easy to stick to our plan or remember our mandate. It’s tempting to want to just release bikes into a city and watch them ride away. It’s easy to note how many cities a company is in…and not how many city bylaws that company is ignoring. Right now, the bike sharing market is an exciting and volatile sphere with few answers — but we can’t ignore the future.
Early on in the life of our company, as we engaged in more and more conversations with cities, our goals started to look different from everyone else’s. Instead of seeing explosive growth in a fast-moving market — a launch every week, X number of cities launched by Y date — as the ultimate “We Made It” accomplishment, we became more critical of sustainability. Can companies who don’t do their homework on cities be the best solution for residents? Could goals that blindly prioritize shallow numbers over sustainable solutions backfire? And most importantly, what will bike sharing look like, and how will it contribute meaningfully to city infrastructure?
Right now, the bike sharing market is an exciting and volatile sphere with few answers — but we can’t ignore the future.
In spring of 2017, we bet on Havens—flexible parking spots that clarify drop-off for users and organize our system for cities. Everyone we talk to says it: Havens are the natural next step. It’s indefensible to shrug as bikes clutter up sidewalks and end up in weird places — companies must be involved in organizing shared bikes. Since spring, Havens have been Dropbike’s unique solution to the chaos of dockless bike sharing. We’ve seen their success in Toronto, Kingston and Westmount…instead of paying thousands of dollars for docks, which are no longer necessary with a fleet of self-locking and app-connecting bikes, the Havens system retains the organization of a docked model with the affordability of a dockless system. Havens are the best of both worlds.
What will bike sharing look like, and how will it contribute meaningfully to city infrastructure?
In the past few months, we’ve tested our hypothesis: we’ve run dockless operations, launched Havens that are only marked in our app, and marked Havens both in our app and physically. We’ve read hundreds of articles about dockless bikes ending up in trees, in rivers, on top of buildings, or on statues. By listening to user feedback, discussing concerns with cities, monitoring data (user compliance, trip starts, trip ends) and remaining flexible, we became the first to realize that Havens are the natural solution.
I n Chicago last week, surrounded by transportation officials, our conference-going, blazer-wearing Business Development and Government Relations team reported back: there’s a buzz building in the bike sharing community. Parking zones, or Havens, are coming.
“Well, duh!” was the response from Dropbike HQ. For the second time, our team had refused to copy-paste the Asian model of dockless bike sharing and stayed ahead of the curve. With the ultimate goal of creating a smart bike sharing platform that truly serves the cities we launch in, we designed Havens—and now, Havens are defining the way North American governments look at bike sharing.
The result? Wait and see.