Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bicycles for the Last Mile





I am a Delhi Metro fanboy. Over the past few months, with the opening of the new Magenta Line, I have found it a lot more convenient to use the metro instead of driving a car.  The rising cost of petrol and parking charges, combined with the daily hassle of crawling through the traffic are factors that make public transport a more attractive option. However, one problem remains - last mile connectivity.

In my case the 'last mile' is about 5km (3.1 miles). So far, I have been covering this distance using buses, autos or the app-cabs (Uber/Ola). Recently, an interesting new option turned up on the horizon.

A few weeks ago, I exited the Okhla Bird Sanctuary (OBS) Metro station to see an array of bright green bicycles lined up in the parking lot. An attendant at the car-parking lot looked blank when I asked him about the bicycles. There were no boards either to explain why ~20 bicyles were lined up there. 

Just as I was about to leave, a lady rode in, left the bicycle in the vicinity, checked something on her mobile and hurried into the station. This is when it occured to me that I was seeing the first batch of dockless, IOT-enabled "smart bikes" in NCR Delhi, from a company named Mobycy

A quick search on the internet tells you that Mobycy is a venture launched last year by Akash Gupta, the former vice president and marketing head of digital wallet firm Mobikwik. The smart-bikes are currently available in select areas of Delhi-NCR region, including Noida, Gurugram, Faridabad and Chandigarh.

Surprisingly, India is a late entrant into the dockless bicycle renting business. It seems the early bird was a German company called Deutsche Bahn which developed the first remote locking systems in 1998. A lot has happened since then:  over 30 companies operate in China, where Ofo, Mobike and oBike have become the world's largest bike share operators with millions of bikes spread over 100 cities. Ofo has 200 million users in 250 countries, Mobike has a similar number in 180 cities, and they are funded by Chinese tech giants Tencent and Alibaba respectively.

The going has been tough for many companies. Gobee - the first dockless bike operator in Paris - has decided to quit after more than a thousand bikes had been stolen or “privatised” and around 3,400 more had been vandalised. City councils in Lisbon and Melbourne have started removing their fleet of oBikes after they were found to be parked carelessly and obstructing roads, subways and staircases.

Mobycy, by launching its operations in the scrappy North Indian cities, seems to have decided to take the bull by its horns. It has made a cautious beginning by creating 'Parking Circles' - designated points where bicycles can be parked, and charging a 'convenience fee' for those that are parked outside these circles. 

This is a great new service and I really hope it succeeds. It remains to be seen if Mobycy has learnt the right lessons from the failure of Gobee and oBikes in other countries.

As for me, I am waiting for a 'parking circle' to appear closer to Sec-105 in Noida. Until then it makes more sense to depend on UberShare and UPSRTC for my last mile connectivity. 

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PostScript - User Experience - 19 June 2018

Last Friday, I tried out a Mobycy bicycle for the first time. I walked across to the Parking Circle outside HCL office, and amidst the hundreds of motorbikes and cars parked by the roadside, found two Mobycy's.

It took less than a minute for me to access the app, scan the QR code and open the locks. After quickly adjusting the seat-height, I set off towards the OBS metro station 4km away. The ride was quite smooth - the bicycle feels sturdy and reliable, the tyres are tubeless and puncture resistant/proof, the front basket is useful for keeping stuff but it takes a bit of getting used to, and the bicycle has a neat mechanical bell built into handlebar.

Once the ride was over it took me a few minutes to lock and exit because internet connection here was a bit iffy. This may also explain why so many bikes (~30) remain unused on the racks. Since the ride was completed in less than 30 minutes, it cost me just Rs.4.15 on Paytm, after a 15% "Summer Discount".

Overall its a great convenience, and I look forward to seeing more Mobycy parking-circles in the city! 


Lots of dockless-bikes - I hope more people start using them!


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LINKS & REFERENCES:

* https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/startups/newsbuzz/mobycy-launches-dockless-bike-sharing-service-app/articleshow/61961324.cms

* (05Dec17) - https://www.vccircle.com/bicycle-sharing-startup-mobycy-raises-seed-funding/
- Mobycy, has raised $500,000 (Rs 3.2 crore) in a seed round from a US-based angel investor

* (Mar2018) - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/are-dockless-bikes-the-future/

* 25Feb2018) - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/02/25/wheels-fall-latest-paris-bike-scheme-thefts-vandalism/

* Bicycle sharing system - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle-sharing_system


* Deutsche Bahn, Germany - https://www.callabike-interaktiv.de/en?



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