Photo: Melanie McMullen
Manufacturers and solution providers in the transportation industry continually try to improve the sharable transit model, which is good for the rider as well as the environment. Connected IoT technology and apps that facilitate easy commuting are becoming commonplace not only for car-sharing services, but for another popular choice in urban transit—the smart bicycle.
A new bike-sharing startup, LimeBike in San Mateo, CA, is partnering with smart cities to solve one of the transportation challenges faced in many dense urban areas: affordable options for the last mile. The goal of LimeBike is to give commuters and college students an easy, affordable way to get to work or class, or to the bus, ferry or train station without dealing with the hassle of parking.
While the majority of bike sharing networks have fixed docking stations or smart bike racks with digital kiosks spread throughout a city, LimeBike has taken a different approach. The system doesn’t rely on centralized transit hubs. Instead, each city will have many parking spots scattered throughout. Using the LimeBike app, commuters can locate where to pick up a bike and where they can leave it closest to their destination.
The company chose this method for cost and convenience reasons, noting that fixed docking stations cost cities and universities millions of dollars. LimeBike estimates that traditional bike sharing systems charge cities and taxpayers up to $5,000 per bike (with station and maintenance) to maintain the network. This results in cities having bike share stations that are too few and far between to be convenient for riders. LimeBike also notes that when cities can’t afford to fund many sharing stations, they end up with a limited number of bikes, resulting in a higher rental cost for users.
Affordable Bike Sharing
LimeBike hopes that by using a dock-free sharing network and by partnering with local governments and stakeholders, it can create a broadly distributed system, with bikes that are more accessible and affordable for all.
LimeBike charges $1 per ride, or $29.95 per month for LimePrime, which includes 100 rides. LimeBike claims that the low cost of individual rides could boost the number of rides people take, ultimately increasing revenue.
In a recent article in Forbes, LimeBike investor Jeff Jordan, a partner at Andreessen-Horowitz, said this about the LimeBike model: "If all of a sudden you take the friction out of the bike experience and make the bikes more convenient, better located and cheaper, I think it could really take off."
Launching officially as a company in January 2017, LimeBike is already taking off. It has started to roll out its service in a subset of U.S. locations, mostly cities and towns with large college or corporate campuses. Fleets are now available in many areas, including Seattle, Dallas, Greensboro, NC, South Bend, IN, Washington, D.C. and Key Biscayne, FL. It recently launched its bike sharing program in select California cities, including Alameda, CA, a San Francisco Bay Area suburb. It also has wheels on the ground at several universities, including University of Notre Dame and North Carolina State University.
Photo: LimeBike at Alameda, CA ferry landing/Melanie McMullen
LimeBike is one of many new entrants in the bike sharing game, which includes companies such as Bluegogo, Social Bicycles, Spin, Zagster and one of the industry leaders, Motivate Co. The global bike share industry could be worth upwards of $6 billion by 2020, according to a report by Roland Berger Consultancy. Currently, just 1 percent of trips taken in the United States are done by bike, so the market is poised for growth.
One of the biggest challenges for LimeBike will be theft prevention, especially since the bikes are not stored at secure docks. The theft-prevention tools onboard include GPS (for easy tracking if the bike gets stolen), parts that aren't easily compatible with other bikes, and a lock on the rear wheel.
In addition to GPS, the LimeBike fleet has 3G connectivity. They sport foam-core tires that aren’t at risk of deflating. They include a large metal basket for carrying cargo, an on-board solar panel that powers lights and a smart lock. Riders can use the LimeBike mobile app to locate the nearest bike, use a QR code to unlock the bike, then lock it up again, freestanding, at their destination. The bikes have a center kickstand, so they can’t be chained to street signs or racks.
The payment system doesn’t require a pay station, as it is integrated into the app. Users scan, ride and pay without leaving the app. For components, LimeBike worked with outside manufactures and vendors, then designed the bikes on their own. It has no plans to sell the GPS-tracked bikes as a consumer product.
Mining for Transit Data
Brad Bao, LimeBike chairman, said the company will be gathering extensive data on the use of LimeBike to demonstrate its advantages to future smart cities, including the impact on traffic, parking and even fitness in their communities.
LimeBike isn’t alone in seeking transit data via the biking commuter. Ford Motor Company recently launched its Ford GoBike bike sharing program in cities around the country. The GoBike system became operational in June in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley. The connected bikes provide an opportunity for Ford to gather transit data.
According to Jim Hackett, Ford’s former chairman of Smart Mobility, who is now the company’s CEO. “The opportunity is data. And the data is super valuable because it tells us these invisible paths that people are taking in complex cities, in terms of how they want to get around.”
Get on Board with Smart Transportation