Manchester and Salford have seen the launch of the Chinese bike hire scheme Mobike this week and it’s got our office talking bikes. This is their 130th city scheme so presumably they know what they’re doing but it’s the first one in this country.
Its beauty is its simplicity: Download the Mobike App, enter phone and credit card details to cover a returnable deposit, add some credit for your first ride then away you go. I’ve ridden the Paris, London and Brussels schemes over the last 10 years and unlike those others this one benefits from GPS on all the bikes and is smart-phone controlled removing the need for and restriction of docking-stations.
The bikes are secured by a locking ring through the back wheel which is released on booking out the bike. 50p per 30 minutes seems very reasonable. As an introductory offer for this month only the deposit is £29 rather than £49 and it is returnable on leaving the scheme (as long as you returned the bike you used).
The area covered is ‘Manchester and Salford’. You can ride anywhere but the bikes must be returned and parked in either of these 2 cities. If we are going off council boundaries I have already picked up one bike in Trafford (returning it to Salford) but unlike many of the other cities in China the app doesn’t show our ‘defined operating area’. People in the office are weighing up commutes and I think it’s better suited to simplifying public transport so you don’t need the cost of tram as well as train or 2 buses. I wouldn’t have the patience to ride 5 or 6 miles home on one. It’s perfect for a 2 mile journey into the city centre for a bit of shopping or turning two 15 minute walks across the Quays and back into a 10 minute round trip with more time for lunch (or beer) in between. I can see plenty of use cases!
It’s single speed and geared low which is just as well as it’s quite heavy (making it feel very stable) and on the slightest incline you notice the extra work you need to do. Fortunately there aren’t any significant hills around our 2 cities.
There are a number of hubs where the bikes congregate, one of them is 2 minutes walk from the office which is very handy. I expect they will be reallocated as patterns of demand will dictate.
As well as looking quite funky, they’re great fun to ride and the whole scheme feels rather playful. The twisty bell is loud and joyous, finding my first bike on Tuesday was like Geo-caching or playing Pokemon Go, and the points based reward system for good behaviour and safe returning of bikes feels like a parental wallchart type thing.
Having read the rules I have already broken 3 of them in the first couple of days: Firstly on finishing my ride today the locking mechanism was broken and couldn’t be manually applied. The phone app covered this eventuality and enabled me to notify that I had finished my journey and also report back (with a photo) the problem with the lock. Had I not done this I could have had points removed from my credit rating (currently 104). Second issue was that I locked the bike up outside a popular fast food restaurant with my own lock which is a no-no and if someone had spotted and reported this then I could have had points deducted (bloody snitch!). The final infringement was parking the bike on private property (outside my office door) rather than on a public pavement where it is easier for the bikes to be found and punters don’t have to worry about trespassing. I realised I’d done this on Tuesday and moved the bike yesterday without unlocking it. With the rear wheel secured and I had to lift it and roll it on its front wheel, after a few seconds the bike detected it was being moved without being unlocked and started beeping in distress (stop thief!). I dumped it by the gatehouse entrance to our Quay and scarpered before anyone could see.
So it’s easy to use and good fun, once I know the rules I’ll play the game and see if high credit leads to some free trips. It’s notable that unlike the London scheme which has cost over £60m to implement (money well spent imho) the Mobike scheme hasn’t cost us local tax payers a penny. Hopefully this will take off and coverage grows and maybe even becomes the norm for our towns and cities.