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Why we can’t have nice things: dockless bikes and the tragedy of the commons

November 5, 2017

by Dominic Rushe : the guardian – excerpt

Behind this bucolic industry is a multibillion-dollar battle between China’s big tech companies and Silicon Valley, and the nightmare of vandals and parking

If there is one sad fact that technology has taught us, it’s maybe that we just can’t have nice things. Now Washington DC has become the latest testing ground for what happens when technology and good intentions meet the real world.

Brightly coloured bikes began popping up around the US capital in September like little adverts for a better world. On a recent trip two lemon yellow bikes were propped up in the autumn sun by the carousel on the Mall. A pair of lime green bikes added a splash of colour to a grey corner of DuPont Circle. An orange and silver bike waited excitedly for its rider outside the George Washington University Hospital.

The untethered bikes all belong to a new generation of “dockless” bike share companies. To pick one up users download an app that shows where the bikes have been left. Scan a QR code on your phone, the bike unlocks and you are off for a $1 30-minute carbon-free ride. Unlike docking rental services, which require bikes to be returned to a fixed docking station, you can leave your ride wherever your journey ends, practically. And therein lies the problem…(more)

In China, where there are some 16 million shared bikes on the street and MoBike alone now has over a million, the authorities have been forced to clear up ziggurats of discarded bikes. Residents of Hangzhou became so irritated by bikes lazily dumped by riders, and reportedly sabotaged by angry cab drivers, that the authorities were forced to round up 23,000 bikes and dump them in 16 corrals around the city.

“There’s no sense of decency any more,” one Beijing resident recently told the New York Times after finding a bike ditched in a bush outside his home. “We treat each other like enemies.”…

In the UK bikes have been hacked, vandalized and thrown on railway tracks. In Australia dumped bikes have been mangled into pavement blocking sculptures – perhaps in a homage to technology’s promise of “creative destruction”…(more)

 

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