Once upon a time there was BikeMi, a fleet of almost 5,000 bicycles with city of Milan branding. They had a total monopoly for a long time, but now they find themselves face to face with a new kind of service — free floating bike sharing. And what does that mean? It means you can rent a bike and leave it anywhere, even if there’s no docking station. That’s exactly what two startups — both founded in Beijing — are doing. They’re called Ofo and Mobike, and they’ve already distributed 8 and 4 thousand bikes in Milan respectively.
Grab a bike in the street and leave it wherever you want
Mobikes stand out for their minimal design. They’re also equipped with GPS, a SIM card and a smart lock that can be opened or closed with an app. It’s a completely automatic system based on a free smartphone app, which lets users see available bikes nearby, book one, unlock it, and lock it back up when they’re done. And pay, of course. The first 30 minutes on a Mobike cost 30 cents, then 50 cents for each half hour after that. Ofo has similar rates — starting at 20 cents for the first half hour, 30 for the next and 5 euros for a full day pass.
The differences between Ofo e Mobike
Both services have similar prices, but Ofo’s system is a bit different. To rent one of their yellow bikes, you scan its QR code or, failing that, you can type in the number on the handlebars. This will generate an unlock code to enter on the keypad under the seat. Mobikes are single speed, which for long trips can make the rider feel like they’re getting nowhere; the yellow Ofo bikes have 3 speeds. They can also be taken outside of Milan’s city limits during a trip, but then they need to be returned within the city. Mobike on the other hand operates anywhere within the tangenziale (Milan’s ring road), and is already talking with surrounding suburbs and towns about potentially expanding their service.
On the flip side, vandalism can be a problem. Photos were recently posted on social media showing Mobikes tossed into the canal, and that was not an isolated case. Police records indicate that there have been other bikes dismantled, and several attempted thefts. One example was when the police in the Quarto Oggiaro district used geolocation to find 20 Ofo bikes locked within a private residence. So the flip side is apparently a lack of civility — it’s the same as when people park in a private drive. Those bikes would show up for any user looking for a bike nearby, but they wouldn’t be able to access them. “Through our system we can identify bikes locked in private enclosures, and we take away credit from the users responsible, even without the problem being flagged,” said Alessandro Felici, manager of the Mobike service. If a user’s credits dip below 80, their fees go up. After 2 transgressions their account is terminated. But Antonio Rapisarda and Marco Menichetti, the top brass at Ofo replied, “Vandals? The numbers are negligible.” They have not yet clearly defined the penalties, but they are likely to be similar to those of their competitors.
Not just bike sharing — now there’s Mimoto too
Moped sharing is another project that was attempted in Milan by Enjoy, who then gave up on the experiment. But now scooter sharing is back, and this time the idea is totally Italian. The three founders are actually Italian, and so are the 100 yellow scooters with Askoll tags. They’re designed and produced in Veneto by a company that specializes in electric vehicles.
They operate throughout the city center and extend the service to places frequented by university students. Within this area, mopeds can be reserved and left freely. To access the service, as with all the others, you need to download the app. But for this one you also need to be at least 18 years old, and hold a scooter license or a B license. The registration fee is less than €10 and it includes 60 minutes of use.
How bike sharing can save your life
Bike sharing offers a range of undeniable benefits, especially for people who use them for short trips. The free floating model lets you park anywhere, so you don’t have to search for bike racks, or worry about bike thieves or apartment buildings that don’t allow them inside. And all this comes at a decent price for fees or membership. And that’s not all. Public bikes tend to be bulky and heavy with disk brakes and bright colors, all of which are vital safety features according to the Mineta Transportation Center. So far there have been no fatal accidents while someone was using a bike sharing cycle. And the secret is in the design.
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