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The Future of E-Bikes in Smart Cities

Jade Ebenezer, Head of Business Development at SharingOS

Originally published on Medium.

Cities around the world are in the beginning stages of a global mobility revolution. A cascade of different factors — everything from heightened awareness about environmental sustainability to concerns about the ability of urban infrastructure to keep up with rapid population growth — have led to cities around the world to consider new, unique and innovative transportation solutions. That helps to explain why e-bikes have taken off in popularity around the world, from Singapore to Europe to North America.

The e-bike model

The basic e-bike model consists of both software and hardware, and can be easily integrated into a city’s smart infrastructure. The hardware, of course, is the bike itself, which is equipped with an electronic lock. The software component is a smartphone app that can be used to track down bikes available to use, open and close bike locks, and find places to return the bike once it has been used.

The earliest iterations of this e-bike system made use of bike stations installed around a city, campus or other large residential area. If you wanted to rent a bike for the day, you would need to locate one of these stations. Then, when you were finished with the bike, you would need to locate another station nearby to drop it off. The system, while easy to use, was not always convenient for users.

Innovations in technology, however, have led to a far superior “hybrid” model. This significantly cuts down on costs and also makes it much more likely that people will actually use the e-bikes for a wide variety of uses. If you are no longer constrained by geography, then you are much more likely to use the e-bike on a regular basis.

YoBike, powered by SharingOS

One of the great success cases to date has been the introduction of YoBike in the UK. The tagline of YoBike was “bike rental made easy”. And that’s exactly what YoBike offered UK residents — a chance to rent bikes anytime, anywhere. There were no docks and no fobs. All you had to do was tap your phone and go. And, best of all, you could return your bike to hundreds of parking locations. An in-app map could provide details about places near you to return the bike, no dock required. As a result, YoBike was widely hailed as “the UK”s first large-scale smart bike, shared-cycle initiative.”

And now the success of YoBike has been replicated around the world, thanks to the creation of SharingOS, a combined software, hardware and support solution in the shared mobility category, with operations across the UK, France, Ireland, Singapore and North America. In Europe, for example, SharingOS now powers YoBike, BleeperBike (named for the “bleep-bleep” sound of a bike lock opening and closing), DigiBike, and Indigo Weel. In Asia, SharingOS now powers GBikes and IsraBike.

SharingOS and the smart city

When you view SharingOS as a mobility solution powered by software and hardware, it’s easy to see why it has exploded in popularity on a worldwide basis. The bikes fit into the everyday digital lifestyle of users, and in some parts of Asia, cycling is such an ingrained part of the everyday culture that convincing people to combine smartphones with smartbikes was not difficult.

But that’s just the perspective of the consumer. But what about the perspective of municipalities? From their perspective, too, these shared mobility solutions make sense. Most importantly, the migration from a dock to dockless system significantly lowers the financial overhead of getting a system up and running very quickly. Moreover, municipal authorities view the smart bike as a way to reach underserved communities that may not already have access to viable public transport options. As an added bonus, municipal authorities are able to make the case to residents and voters that they are taking a major step towards addressing longstanding environmental sustainability issues. Fewer cars on the road mean less congestion and less smog.

And, of course, e-bikes fit into the whole notion of the “Smart City.” This concept, at its core, views the city as a living, breathing entity powered by sensors, hardware, software and digital devices. Think of sensors on major roadways or bridges, warning of possible traffic congestion. Or sensors on buildings, helping residents and officials keep down energy costs. So the idea of e-bikes outfitted with digital locks and plugged into smart city infrastructure is very much in the technological zeitgeist.

SharingOS and the future of bike sharing solutions

That being said, the implementation of bike systems around the world has not always gone off without a hitch. In some North American cities, for example, officials sometimes have raised the prospect of “rogue” bike operators entering cities without getting the necessary permits or licenses. In parts of China, concerns have mounted about the upkeep and maintenance of these bikes, especially when users discard them willy-nilly, without any regard for their surroundings.

SharingOS seeks to minimize — or even reduce — these potential problems by ensuring that complementary and integrated features are built into the shared mobility system from the outset. In other words, bike systems powered by SharingOS integrate well into existing urban infrastructure and are designed to complement — not compete with — existing public transport options in the most sustainable manner.

As a result, SharingOS has outlined four base case scenarios where its e-bike model can be used:

· Urban and metropolitan regions with populations of 50,000+

· Universities with 10,000+ students

· Tourism attractions of any size

· Corporate campuses

In each of these cases, the process for getting a SharingOS solution up and running is easy, flexible and economical. It’s easy to customize a fleet to a specific brand or identity, and even easier to launch. It’s basically a turnkey mobility solution that comes with an ongoing support system. And since it’s all powered by existing technology that is nearly ubiquitous around the world (i.e. smartphones), SharingOS is a concept that is easily understood by even the most technophobic city resident.

The global mobility revolution continues to take shape, led by solutions like SharingOS. At a time when cities are facing a number of questions about their long-term sustainability, the concept of a fully customizable, turnkey open mobility system is an idea whose time has come.

The author is Head of Business Development at SharingOS, a London and Shanghai based company that enables effortless, plug-and-play and sustainable solutions for partners to thrive in the mobility markets worldwide.

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