In Asia and in China, in particular, dockless bike sharing is the predominant form of bicycle sharing. As of this writing (2017), dockless bike sharing, spearheaded by small startups and expanding Asian bike sharing companies, has so far only debuted a small number of cities in Europe and North America, where it is a new development.
Some dockless bike sharing initiatives that have made inroads in Europe and North America include:
- Dropbike (Toronto; Kingston, Ontario; Westmount, Quebec) U-Bicycle (Victoria, British Columbia - China-based-company)
- Biketown (Portland, Oregon - sponsored by Nike. Not fully dockless system. Bikes can be returned to systme hubs or locked to public bike racks for a small additional fee)
- Spin (Seattle; San Francisco; Washington DC)
- Mobike (Washington DC; London, UK; Manchester, UK - China-based company)
- LimeBike (Washington DC; Seattle; Dallas; South San Francisco; South Lake Tahoe; Greensboro, NC; Northbend, IN; Key Biscayne Florida; Imperial Beach, CA; several US university campuses)
- oBike (London, UK - Singapore-based company)
- VBikes (Dallas and some Texas university campuses - Taiwan-based company)
The advantages and deficits of dockless bike sharing are in general similar to those of bike sharing overall. Issues specific to dockless bike sharing are detailed below.
Advantages to Dockless Bike Sharing
- Convenience - Dockless bikes can be found throughout their service area. As such, users do not have to get themselves to a designated bike hub to rent or return individual bikes. The fact that the bikes can be left anywhere also allows for users to plot lesser traveled routes and to plan for one-way trips in ways not possible with traditional bike sharing services
- Flexibility - Dockless bike sharing operators can monitor user travel patterns and distribute bicycles in fitting numbers accordingly throughout their service areas, a flexibility and scalability not afforded by stationary bicycle docks.
- Space-saving - Kiosk-based bike sharing systems usually require a significant amount of space in each of their hub locations for bulky bicycle stations. This need for a certain amount of space can limit the areas in which the bike share bicycles can be parked.
- Cost-savings - As it cuts out the need for fixed infrastructure such as bike kiosks and parking stations, the dockless bike sharing model can significantly cut down on the costs needed to implement.
- Quick to Implement - Similarly, dockless bike sharing networks, because they have very little fixed infrastructure and have reduced overhead can be more quick to roll out than more traditional bike sharing models
Concerns and Issues Around Dockless Bicycle Sharing Services
- Obstacles to its widespread adoption in these markets remain:
- Regulations around licensing, mandated helmet use, and parking
- Forging agreements with local governments, many of whom have been alarmed at the rapid rise and number of dockless bicycle share services
- Competition and opposition from incumbent kiosk-based bike sharing networks (many of which have municipal support)
- Fears raised in the communities about the dockless bicycles being strewn about the city streets (as has happened in Chinese cities) making extra work for city maintenance employees, blocking pedestrian thoroughfares, creating an eyesore and presenting tripping hazards
- Concerns around access for those who may not have a smartphone (as dockless bike services are dependent on networked mobile phone use and perhaps even more dependent on this form of technology than kiosk-based services)