It’s all about the fleet behind the fleet.
Bike-share programs have swept into cities across the globe. They let people open an app and ride away on a bike, paying as they go. The problem? Those bikes require a lot of TLC.
So behind the scenes, companies send teams in trucks, vans, and even tricycles to repair, maintain, and “rebalance” bikes, an industry term for making sure bicycles aren’t all clumped together or placed too far away from potential riders. That’s where software tracking each bike’s location and user behavior comes in.
Ofo recently announced a long-term partnership with Enterprise to use its trucks and vans to carry bikes that need repairs, a new tire, or a more convenient location.
It’s rolling out in a few cities, like Seattle, Dallas, Phoenix, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Ofo operates it bike-shares in more than 30 American cities. Just this simple change in how the company maintains it fleet of 40,000 bikes (and newly released e-bikes, complete with electric-assist for easier pedaling) is expected to bring in $1 million in annual savings.
Each city gets its own treatment to maximize efficiency, according to Ofo spokesperson Eric Smith. In a city like Seattle, bicycles are placed at the top of hills, while in San Diego they start in the city center and move toward the beach later in the day.
Lime’s fleet of bright green vans are part of its brand. Caen Contee, Lime co-founder and VP of marketing, said in a phone call that with route and user data, Lime can use predictive behavior to best place its bikes, even factoring things in like time of day and week, events, and commuting patterns.
“We really try to prevent our carbon footprint from growing,” Contee said. “How can we find opportunities enabled by tech and make more and more efficient fleets.” He’s not just talking about Lime’s bicycles, electric-assist bicycles, and electric scooters. Lime is testing electric tricycles in Berlin. They’re attached to trailers, so operations crews can load up bikes and haul them away. Eventually, Contee hopes to turn its green vans electric.
Mark Miretsky, general manager at Jump, which was acquired by Uber earlier this year, also talked about implementing electric vehicles and electric tricycles with trailers.
Right now, Jump uses unmarked vans to disperse its bright red e-bikes, and uses data to serve areas where people open the app looking for bikes. They also track every bike in real-time. Every driver has this data on their phone.
“The smarter you are, the less cost you can incur, the greener you can can be,” Miretsky said. Using routing tools, drivers pick up bicycles in an efficient way. There’s no time, energy, or money to waste on heading to the far reaches of town only to return to base with a few bicycles.
Elana Boehm, VP of market management at Zagster, the company that runs bike-share Pace, is all about optimizing its fleet of bikes. “We’re incentivized to make sure there are bikes where riders want them,” she said. To most effectively do that, the company uses Sprinter vans, the sleek Mercedes-Benz vehicles popular in the climbing and camping community.
Vans, however, aren’t always practical. That’s where trailers come in, which let bikes tow bikes. They’re a bit more nimble than a lumbering van, and that makes it easier for crews to get around.
Motivate, the bike-share company behind New York’s Citi Bike and San Francisco’s Ford GoBike, didn’t respond to a request for comment, but one of their clearly labeled Ford GoBike vans was spotted near San Francisco’s AT&T Park this week. The worker loading bicycles said the vans fit about 14 bikes each.