13 August 2010

Solving the full / empty docking stations problem

As I was cycling home up Baylis Road the other night, I was infuriated to see the cycle lane blocked again by this parked c...

Oh. Well, I suppose this one had a decent reason. Of course it's a hire bike shuttle car plus trailer, moving bikes from full docking stations to empty ones.

There's quite a bit of this going on at the moment, as shown by yesterday's post. Possibly lots more to come.

Which raised a sensational suggestion from one of my fellow Southwark Cyclists last night. How about rewarding people who cycle 'against the tide', helpfully?

For instance, if you cycle from a docking station which has (say) less than two free docking points to one which has less than two bikes, you get 25p credit put on your account - something like that.

It would not just help solve the problem of redistribution vehicles clogging the roads. It would also be a great job creation scheme for those with time on their hands, and help fill the streets with cyclists, which as we all know makes it all safer.

I think we should start a campaign.


  1. In the Paris bike sharing system, if you put your bike in a station on top of a hill, you get 15 minutes free

  2. That actually is a brilliant idea. By the way I was a bit surprised that they actually use a petrol powered car to to this, not an electric one.

  3. That's very like the US "money back on bottles and cans" scheme by which homeless people earn a bare living collecting them and bringing them back to a supermarket.

    Giving out extra time would probably be easier.

  4. Would be the good old supply and demand scheme. When one station is full, supply is high and prices go down (aka discount, free minutes etc). The trick is to make people aware of that. How do customers know which station offers cheaper bikes beforehand? iPhone app?

  5. I think you would have to be very cautious about preventing gaming. People are usually smarter than you think. For example, if your suggestion were implemented I could get dozens of bikes on the back of a truck and then dock then undock them into an otherwise empty docking point.

    Maybe you can think of a way to defeat this kind of gaming but you really have to think of a way to defeat /every/ kind of gaming otherwise people will just do it anyway.

    Generally speaking I agree with you though. The right incentive scheme could solve the balancing issue more efficiently than some massive TFL controlled fleet of trucks with trailers.

  6. @Elantius: people "gaming" the system by re-distributing bikes isn't a problem, so long as the cost of "paying" them is less than the cost of the cycle hire scheme doing it themselves, or if the gaming provides benefits of similar value (e.g. higher usage of the scheme).

    If you have a fuel-efficient truck and very low operating costs then you could perhaps make a few pence re-distributing bikes :) It would be trivial to spot multiple bikes being hired by the same person at the same time, so you'd presumably need a bunch of friends, or a set of hire accounts.

    Since any payment would be in the form of cycle hire discounts, and to the account used to shuttle the bikes, only cyclists would want to get that reward anyway.

  7. I meant you could just move them back and forth between the same two stations.

  8. The imbalance is inherent in the scheme, because the total number of bikes is only a fraction of latent demand. That applies at local level as well. On average thousands of people live and work within the catchment area of each docking station. In some areas that will be well over 10,000.

    To avoid collapse, public cycle hire schemes in large cities are designed to deter use, by restricting the possible journeys as much as possible. That why there are limits on access, length or time of journeys, area of operation, and location of racks. The London scheme is designed for short non-commuter trips in central London only. However, it is far too small for the latent demand, even in that category.

    No amount of redistribution will solve that problem. Forcing the unemployed to shift them by cycling won't solve it either, and it is either unethical, or absurdly uneconomic. How could they ever earn the national minimum wage, cycling across central London at 25p at time?

  9. @Anonymous... I never said anything about forcing. I'm a libertarian at heart and forcing doesn't come into it. It's merely an opportunity.

    Opportunity is experience. Experience is knowledge. Knowledge is power. Power is energy divided by time. Time is money.

    But money is the root of all evil.

    Therefore evil is energy squared by opportunity squared. You can't argue with that. It's scientific FACT.

    Remember, also, that the tone of this blog is often semi-ironic - a sort of catalyst for thinking.

    You can tell when I'm being serious, because I mark that text in blue.

    You can tell when I'm being jocular, because I mark that text in red.

    And you can tell when I'm being semi-ironic, because I mark that text in black.

  10. Unfortunately Blogger doesn't allow colour in comments. So your commenters should use bold if they're being serious, italic if they're being jocular, and CAPITAL LETTERS when we don't think you can hear us.

  11. Why use a car? Why not employ unicyclists to move the bikes? They could sling the unicycle on their back while they move a Boris bike.

  12. You could make redistribution competitive and have some sort of alleycat from full to empty stands? But I think the T&C forbids racing...