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Rescue & Reward: Solving the Dockless Bike-Share Problem - Erik Kondo

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

The Problem

Bike-share bicycles and scooters blocking sidewalks or haphazardly strewn about are a systemic problem in need of a systemic solution.

The companies that operate these vehicles (such as Bird and Lime) claim that rider education is the solution. If riders would just park their devices properly, there would be no problem. Human nature is such that there exists a significant percentage of people who ride these devices who simply don't care where they leave them. Regardless of their "education" on the subject. Maybe these people make up only 10% of all riders. But if 10% of all bike-share devices are improperly parked at any given time, it is a serious problem, particularly for wheelchair-users.

The bike-share companies are not realistically able to enforce parking rules. Without appropriate enforcement, there will always be violations. In addition, bikes and scooters also fall over due to wind gusts, tip over when bumped, and are subject to being tossed aside by their detractors. Some are even dismembered by a hostile public as shown in the photo below.

While most bike-share companies have teams designated to respond to complaints about improperly located devices, how many people will be blocked from passage or inconvenienced in the meantime? The time lag between complaint and response will always be too long to make people happy.

The Solution

The same technology that has created this problem can also be used to solve it.

Bike-share companies have a huge pool of users who use their devices. This same pool of people can also be rewarded to self-police the parking of scooters and bikes with the use of financial incentives. The same technology that charges someone upon taking a ride can also credit someone for "rescuing" an improperly located device.

Here is how it would work. A person with the ride-share app sees a scooter lying across the sidewalk. He (or she) goes over to it and parks it properly. He connects to the scooter via his app and claims his reward. Maybe the reward is $.50 - $1 per "rescue" depending upon the nature of the problem.

As a practical matter, it is a relatively simple task for most able-bodied people to physically move a scooter to a proper parking location. The scooters are designed to be light and easy to move around. The issue for most people is that they don't want to do it. They don't feel it is their responsibility, so they don't move it out of the way. But once you give them a reward for their effort, their behavior will change. It is human nature to respond positively to rewards.

A Systemic Problem Requires a Systemic Solution

The more people who use dockless bike-shares, the greater the number of devices which will need to be "rescued". The more people who use bike-shares, the greater the population of "rescuers" available. Just as there will be serial violators, there will also be serial rescuers. The rescuers will offset the violators. Hopefully, in the long term, the influence of rescuers will create a cultural shift towards greater user responsibility and public appreciation.

It's About Profits

Given the availability of this solution, why haven't dockless bike-share companies created Rescue & Reward programs? My guess is that it comes down to profits. There will be a cost associated with the program. This cost will eat into profits. Likely, the bike-share companies are hoping that their problem will go away when people give up on complaining and come to accept the issues with dockless scooters and bikes as an unavoidable fact of city life.

Unfortunately for wheelchair users and other people with disabilities, improperly parked scooters and bikes create a much greater issue than just an inconvenience or an eye sore. They are literally road blocks. Dockless bike-share companies need to modify their business model to account for the real costs that their devices create.


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