Hybrid Bike Sharing

A different approach to bike sharing that maximizes flexibility and minimizes chaos.

Urban Sharing’s custom hybrid bike lock

Over the past year, “bike sharing” has become a buzzword of the tech world, propelling an old technology — the bicycle — headfirst into the digital age. Dockless shared bikes in a rainbow of colors are filling the streets of cities around the world and in the big picture, this is a positive trend.

The sudden interest in bike sharing by cities, users, and investors signals a cultural shift in the way this generation sees urban mobility, now and into the future. With urban populations on the rise, cities are moving away from reliance on the personal car and in the direction of urban infrastructure that’s smart, efficient, and shared. With the surge in interest around bike sharing, the world is seeing how digital technology can be harnessed to continually improve and adapt to changes in the urban landscape.

However, while the overall trend of dockless bike sharing reflects a positive shift in mindset, it has come with serious challenges. Cities, particularly those in Asia, the U.S., and Europe, are now getting thousands of new bikes introduced into the cityscape without planning for the long-term consequences of this added infrastructure. Municipalities are grappling with how and when to enforce permits and regulations, while also combatting bike theft and vandalism. An oversaturation of the market, especially in cities where multiple dockless bike share companies operate, results in cluttered streets where in some cases the bikes create more congestion than they relieve. And in some cities, these challenges cultivate a climate of frustration around bike sharing and bicycles in general, which is counterproductive to long term goals for more sustainable urban mobility.

Our hybrid approach

In our new systems in Bergen,Trondheim, and soon Edinburgh, we’ve integrated our innovative software platform with custom hardware designs to develop a better solution for bike sharing. Our custom hybrid lock offers both physical station-based and “virtual station” bike sharing. This model improves the flexibility of the system to users while maintaining an organized and optimized operation within the cityscape.

“Smart lock, dumb dock”

In our previous installments, the intelligence was built into the dock, which registered which bike was returned at which time, while also allocating and unlocking bikes upon request. Now the electronics are moved the bike, and the intelligence to the cloud.

This is what we call our new “smart lock, dumb dock” design. The system is based on a principle of a “floating” lock on the bike, where the locking action is triggered by one of the following: returning the bike to a physical dock, locking the bike within the perimeter of a virtual station, or locking the bike “to itself” during a break within the borrow period.

Improved flexibility and availability for users

In addition to physical stations, the hybrid lock allows for the use of “virtual” stations which can be created using geofencing technology. These stations are accompanied a visual indicator of the parking space, such as a painted square on the sidewalk. The geofencing perimeter can also be added to the area around physical stations to create a hybrid station, providing extended “overflow” capacity to the dock. During rush hours when the docks quickly become full, users can simply park and lock the bike next to the dock. When users request to borrow a bike, the system intelligently allocates available bikes based on previous usage to balance wear and tear across the fleet. If there are any “overflow” bikes at the station, it will allocate those first to keep the streets clean and organized.

Another feature of the hybrid model allows the ride to be “paused” during the borrow period. When a city biker goes into a café or shop and wants to leave the bike locked outside, he or she can simply press “Pause Trip” in the app and the bike will be inaccessible to other users during the break.

Better for the city

With the technology located on the bike, not the dock, the installation and maintenance costs for physical stations are significantly decreased, as there is no need for a power connection to the docks. A hybrid system is also a cost-effective way to plan and design bike share schemes, since station locations can be trialed at virtual stations at almost no cost. In this way, patterns of usage can be studied before permanent stations are implemented.

The size of the geofenced area at virtual stations can be easily made larger or smaller depending on demand. For cities that have large events or festivals, or see spikes in usage during certain times of year, virtual stations are a quick and inexpensive way to scale and customize the system based on the unique needs of the city and its population.

Unlike fully dockless systems, in our hybrid model bikes can only be borrowed and returned at designated locations, which offers a visual sense of order around the city. This also helps to maintain the quality and condition of the bikes, which are more prone to damage and vandalism in dockless systems. With the hybrid model, city bikes and docking points become more accessible to users, and provide an organized yet flexible solution for the city.

At Urban Sharing, we’re proud to provide software solutions that take part in the rising momentum around smarter urban mobility. In doing so, it is our goal to ensure that our sharing systems continue to play a positive role in the cities where we operate. With our hybrid model, we provide cities with bike sharing that’s driven by technology and designed as mobility infrastructure that’s scalable and sustainable over the long term.