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Can Shared Micromobility Prevail Against Anti-Social Behavior?

Sagie Evbenata
Nov 17, 2020

Guidehouse Insights

Shared bikes, scooters, and especially electric micromobility have become popular over the past few years. However, they have been plagued by anti-social behavior since their inception. Inconsiderate usage has tarnished the image of shared micromobility; careless and mischievous users often leave their bikes or scooters on sidewalks and imaginatively inconsiderate locations, obstructing pedestrians and disabled persons and creating safety hazards. Furthermore, reckless riders and incidents involving drunk e-scooter riders have been widely reported, and police forces such as those from Denmark and Germany have been testing and punishing riders caught under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

Ongoing Image Problem

The problem of theft and vandalism is even worse, affecting as much as 50% of some fleets. The world’s largest bike sharing company, Mobike, reported losing more than 200,000 bikes to theft or vandalism in 2019. The ubiquity and portability that has boosted the popularity of shared bikes and scooters has also made them vulnerable to extreme levels of vandalism. Examples include vehicles being irreparably damaged with angle grinders and hammers, set on fire, dumped in rivers and lakes, and thrown from bridges. 

Theft and vandalism immensely increase operating costs and have resulted in several schemes being shut down. For example, Mobike pulled out of Manchester in 2018 after only 13 months of operation. In 2018, Hong Kong-based bike sharing operator GoBee stopped operating in France after 4 months despite amassing 150,000 users. The company lost thousands of bikes to theft and vandalism and regrettably declared that “the mass destruction of our fleet has become the new pastime of minors.” GoBee completely pulled out of Europe and became insolvent a few months later. 

Addressing the Problem 

Technological and policy solutions are being developed to address these challenges, and operators have implemented various approaches to reduce the risk of anti-social behavior. Vehicles have been designed with improved durability and employ theft-deterring measures including cable locks, proprietary parts, and internal cabling. GPS tracking is standard, but operators have started installing additional hidden radio modules to track vehicle locations and alarms and immobilizers to detect unauthorized movement. In addition to implementing security measures, Swiss e-bike sharing company BOND Mobility takes a psychological approach to protecting its fleet. The company provides high end, $4,000 e-bikes that are inspected every 3 days to ensure pristine condition. The company has observed that users admire these e-bikes, taking extra care in riding and returning them, and are perhaps cautious of potentially high damage liabilities.

City authorities are also taking responsibility, developing codes of conduct for the operation of shared micromobility schemes. To counter the problem of users riding on sidewalks, authorities in Santa Monica, California, are planning regulations to make sidewalk detection technology obligatory for shared scooters. In addition, several Chinese cities fine operators for offences and seize illegally parked bikes resulting in bicycle graveyards. Operators can penalize offending users who then have points deducted from their social credit rating. However, it is improbable that such an approach could be effectively implemented elsewhere. Some local authorities in London are planning to mandate that shared bikes must be docked to reduce inconsiderate parking. This measure would be controversial as it would eliminate important benefits of dockless services. 

The Struggle Continues

Shared micromobility operates with slim margins that face the continual global nuisance of anti-social behavior. The measures implemented to mitigate this behavior will not completely thwart determined and resourceful thieves or vandals and they further add to operating costs. Ultimately, the success of shared micromobility is dependent on not only technical and business innovation but also a combination of deterring vandalism and theft, enforcing policies and responsible behavior, and fostering a social appreciation for mobility.