In 2014, five members of the Peking University cycling club toyed with the idea of using GPS trackers to allow bike sharing users to leave their bikes wherever they wanted once they were done using them. What began as a college group project blew up within a year to become ofo – the world’s first dockless bike sharing company. Today, ofo operates in 250 cities in 20 countries across the world and has more than 10 million active bikes. It faces stiff competition from the likes of Mobike, Spin, Bird Rides, LimeBike among others – all multimillion dollar startups, fighting tooth and nail to dominate the world’s city streets. Within just three years since their introduction, dockless bikes have been creating a quiet revolution in the way we think about urban mobility.
Investment in bike sharing platforms is skyrocketing through the years
|Year||Total disclosed funding ($ mn)||Number of deals|
While traditional bike sharing has been around for a couple of decades now, research has shown time and again that it is often geographically and demographically restrictive. Docked bikes have to be returned to their docking stations after use, which makes them practically useless as a last-mile transportation option. The result is that a traditional bike sharing network comes with a predefined, inflexible perimeter. More often than not, these networks find themselves situated in the more affluent, gentrified neighbourhoods of the city. Studies correlating racial and income disparity and geographical distribution of bikeshare docking stations have emerged out of some of the biggest biking cities of the US including Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.
Dockless bikes on the other hand are helping fill some of these gaps within the urban demography in a big way. Without the need for establishing heavy on-ground infrastructure like docking stations or the licensing and permit hassles that accompany car rentals, they are extremely easy to introduce to an ecosystem. It is no wonder that cities all over the world are witnessing some of the fiercest turf wars between dockless bike sharing companies.
And the turf is only expanding – Mobike launched in Santiago, Chile earlier this year, while Yellow, a Brazil based dockless mobility startup raised $9 million to start services in Sao Paulo two months ago in August. Indian cities too are in contention. Homegrown startups like Mobycy, Yulu, ONN and Pedl are competing against ofo and Mobike in fledgeling markets like Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai and Gurgaon.
Major players in the dockless mobility space
|Startup||Total funding ($ mn)||Current funding round||Last funding date|
|Ofo||2147.84||Series E – II||14/3/2018|
|Mobike||2010||Acquired by Meituan||5/4/2018|
|JUMP||14.41||Acquired by Uber||9/4/2018|
|Bird Rides||115||Series B||9/3/2018|
As Kyle Lui, a principal at DCM Ventures, one of the investors in LimeBike states about dockless mobility, “It is actually the closest thing we have today to last-mile autonomous transportation.” Micro-mobility within the urban landscape includes everything from your daily commute to the metro station or a weekend trip to the grocery store – distances that are too short to call an Uber and too long to travel by foot. This is where dockless bikes come in – just leave the bike at your destination at the end of your trip and move on. Bikes are scattered around the city for anyone with an app to unlock and use.
Think of it as Pokemon Go meets on-demand transport. You pay through the app for the amount of time you use the asset, and once you reach your destination, just park it on a convenient spot for the next person to discover. It is no wonder that industry giants like Uber and Lyft are getting in on the competition – Uber recently bought JUMP bikes for $200 million while Lyft has officially become US’s biggest dockless bikeshare company after acquiring Motivate.
So how is dockless transport shifting paradigms in the logistics industry?
Ten years ago, Uber introduced a business model in the logistics space that changed the way we book a cab. Banking on an ever growing smartphone user base, a well incentivized driver network and simple, intuitive UI to connect the two, Uber’s on-demand logistics model pioneered the overhaul of the mobility industry.
Today, dockless transport is poised to be a game changer in the logistics space. A lot of tech that it leverages is similar to that of Uber, but it does so in a way that better empowers the user and the community as a whole. While its solutions emerge from trying to tackle the tricky last-mile problem, they provide serious food for thought for the logistics industry:
- Dockless transport lets the vehicle define its own perimeters and networks, without the need to return to fixed docking stations. Imagine a free floating vehicle shared between consumers and businesses, changing roles from rental to last-mile delivery to consignment transport with each trip, monitored by mapping and tracking tech. This is mobility unshackled.
- Dockless transport redefines asset engagement. Ridesharing is only the first step towards a more streamlined supply chain. Freight logistics need to think about collaborating in newer ways and sharing assets across multiple organizations to reduce empty miles, downtime and maximize efficiency. .
- Interestingly, dockless transport is fostering innovation in the field of electric automobiles. Companies like Bird, Lime and Spin are already offering electric scooters, e-assisted bicycles in most cities that they operate in, while funding research to make them more efficient and user friendly and with a lower carbon footprint. This is valuable for the automotive industry as a whole.