Monday, October 14, 2019

Battery Management of E-bikeshare and E-scootershare

Recently, I attended an excellent presentation about battery management at the North American Bikeshare Association (NABSA) conference. With more electric bikeshare and scootershare vehicles hitting the streets around the world, this topic is of increasing importance. As an e-bike owner, I personally have seen how it has changed how I get around in the hilly Washington, D.C. region as I bike a lot more now than before I bought the e-bike. While these e-bikeshare and e-scootershare vehicles can be great and increase getting around town without needing drive or be driven; unless their rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are managed well during their useful life and recycled properly into steel, stainless steel, and new batteries; e-bikeshare and e-scootershare can cause more harm than good to our customers, staff, and the environment. As MetroBike manages e-bikeshare and e-scootershare systems for local governments, I took note.

E-bikeshare & e-scootershare parking corral
The reason lithium-ion batteries are so popular and omnipresent is because they can hold a lot of energy in a small package, called “energy density”. According to Battery University “The energy density of lithium-ion is typically twice that of the standard nickel-cadmium. … Most of today's mobile phones run on a single [lithium-ion] cell. A nickel-based pack would require three 1.2-volt cells.”
Lithium-ion batter (credit: B&H)
However, a major problem with lithium-ion batteries are that they, “have a tendency to overheat, and can be damaged at high voltages. In some cases this can lead to thermal runaway and combustion,” says the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute. Not being familiar with the term “thermal runaway”, I had to look it up. It’s defined by Lithium-Ion Battery Chemistries as, “when a cell has reached the temperature at which the temperature will continue to increase on its own and it becomes self-sustaining as it creates oxygen which feeds the fire (literally).”

Electronic bikeshare and scootershare vehicles already have been reported to have had multiple fires on the street and in warehouses in the U.S., such as the reported instances of e-bikeshare in Bicycling Magazine and e-scootershare in The Washington Post. I haven’t read any reports yet of fires happening while someone is on a vehicle and hope it never happens.

Capital Bikeshare Plus (credit BeyonDC)
The NABSA presentation that I mentioned above was given by Todd Ellis of Call2Recycle. He suggested e-bikeshare and e-scootershare operators and municipal system owners both have roles in battery management. Mr. Ellis stated:

Operators should:
-accept that this is an issue;
-size up the issue;
-select a storage area in their warehouse;
-develop standard operator procedures for battery management, including handling used, damaged, and defective batteries;
-train employees on handling; and
-plan for the worst.

How’s that for sobering?

In addition, municipalities should:
-have operators provide their battery management plan as a micro-mobility application requirement,
-require the operator provide their battery recycling partner contract, and
-include the cost of recycling batteries in abandoned vehicle fines.

This just scratches the surface.

E-bikeshare and e-scootershare vehicles are here to stay. Bikeshare has proven for over a decade that it’s successful at getting people around town in a healthy, fun, and environmentally friendly way. E-bikeshare bikes are generating roughly three times more trips than standard pedal bikeshare bikes because the electric version makes it easier to get around without exerting as much effort. E-scootershare didn’t have a non-electric shared version, so there’s no direct comparison. With the immense uptake of e-scootershare around the world, one can see that people like to get around without effort, and the easier, the better. E-scootershare requires even less exertion than e-bikeshare as pedaling is not involved.

E-bikeshare and e-scootershare will continue to evolve. With the popularity of these vehicles, likely there will be many more generations of electric vehicles and they’ll all need batteries. So the need for safe and environmentally friendly battery management will continue to grow.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Asset Management

Bikeshare is transit and as such needs the same attention that rail and bus systems do to keep functioning properly as they age. As most bikeshare systems around the world have launched this decade, many are needing to replace equipment that is becoming outdated and performing less than optimally after years of use and exposure to the elements. It’s not as exciting to repair or replace a bikeshare station as it is to expand a network with a new station, but in many ways it’s more important in order to maintain ridership and happy customers.

It’s necessary to keep a bikeshare system in a “state of good repair” and stay ahead of the curve so that the backlog of repairs doesn’t threaten your system’s reliability in the future. A bikeshare system is in a state of good repair when system components are properly maintained or replaced in accordance with industry standards. Customers don’t appreciate broken docks that won’t accept the return of a bike or seats cracked so badly that they’re not comfortable and soak up water when it rains only to get customers wet on their next trip. Common equipment issues for stationary assets are rust on the plates and docks; dysfunctional and/or unreadable kiosk displays; and docks with locking mechanisms that have extended well past their useful life and won’t accept a bike on a customer’s first attempt at the bike’s return. If the quality of your bikeshare system decreases, customers will bail from bikeshare to find a better functioning transport option to meet their mobility needs. Therefore, keeping a bikeshare system well-maintained is key.

Seat conditions
As stations age, it’s likely not necessary to replace the entire station, but rather replace individual components that aren’t functioning optimally. To determine what needs repair or replacement requires knowing the condition of the equipment. To do this there are asset management software tools, such as Survey123, where one can program the needed fields in the app and then use a smartphone or tablet while on-site at each station to enter the data. Fields should span across each type of asset, including plates, map frame, kiosks, and docks. It will take a decent amount of time, but regularly inspecting your system assets helps you spot and address smaller issues before they grow to bigger and more expensive and time-consuming problems. 

photo credit: Aaron Goldbeck and Iryna Bondarenko, District Department of Transportation
The appearance and functionality of stations should be considered. Appearance refers to rust, correct decals and station name, presence of vandalism and debris, presence of decals and map frame ad/public service announcement, etc. For on-street stations, let’s not forget delineators and markings. Functionality refers to the actual operation of the station, such as making sure the kiosk display is responding to touch and is legible, each dock accepts and releases a bike, key pads are working, station plates haven’t separated too much thereby creating a tripping hazard, etc. Each bikeshare vendor’s equipment has its own set of needs regarding what should be evaluated during station visits.

Knowing the actual condition of equipment will allow bikeshare operators and owners to replace components based on need rather than age. While age is an important consideration, an older infrequently used dock will last longer than a newer frequently used dock, all things being equal. With this equipment condition data, one’s limited budget can be spent more wisely.

Out of service dock
We at MetroBike assist clients with asset management to ensure longevity of their bikeshare investment. Working with our clients, we develop a complete list of assets needing condition evaluation, analyze assets on-site, report which assets need repair or replacement, and help create a prioritization of replacement needs based on the budget. Should your bikeshare organization need assistance with asset management, you can reach us at hello @

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Please, Don't Call It Dockless

It’s time to reconsider the terms that are presently being used in much of the English-speaking world for the “dockless bikeshare” and “dockless scooter” systems that have popped up around the globe over the past couple of years. As you may have guessed, we here at The Bike-sharing Blog – the specialists in public-use bicycling – have a couple thoughts about this as it’s in our wheelhouse. 

Modern 3rd generation (high-tech) bikeshare systems that don’t need a station at which to park bikes have been around since the dawn of the millennia. However, about two to three years ago with the dawn of these systems in China, a new term was coined which explained not what these systems are, but rather what they are not – they don’t need stations and their pesky docks, so are dockless. The term “dockless bikeshare” somehow caught on.

Then more recently electric stand-up scooters hit the scene and the term “dockless scooters” was creatively coined (pardon the sarcasm) due to its similarity to dockless bikeshare. Did anyone stop to think that this term, dockless scooters, doesn’t make any sense because there were never docks to begin with.

Dockless bikeshare and dockless scooters are transitional terms available to us now as we transition to better, more descriptive and accurate terms. The term “horseless carriage” was a transitional term used in the early years of the automobile as a descriptor because at the time carriages generally were pulled by horses, but this new machine, which later was called the automobile, had its own steam energy source. 

The good news is that existing terms will satisfy the need for more accurate descriptions for these technologies. The terms “fixed bikeshare” and “flexible bikeshare” have been around since the mid-2000s and accurately describe station-based and non-station-based systems, respectively. Fixed bikeshare has stations at fixed points. Flexible bikeshare provides flexibility to customers about where to park. For the few hybrid systems out there that both allow parking at and away from stations, it can be “hybrid bikeshare” or how about “flexed bikeshare” combining both the flex- of flexible and the -xed of fixed. The term “scootershare” is also already in use, but needs the descriptor “stand-up scootershare” so as to not be confused with sit-down scooters which are also being shared.

Why reinvent the wheel when we already have good terms to ride on?

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Paul DeMaio is Principal with MetroBike, LLC – the U.S.’s oldest fixed and flexible bikeshare consultancy.