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.

1 comment:

Cyrille said...

Hi Paul,

I've been using the terms 'station-based', 'flex', and 'dockless' to define the, for example, PBSC, SoBi and Lime systems, respectively. So this contrasts a bit with your usage. I'm not content with my 'flex' term because it's not directly clear. However these hybrid systems are waning in importance perhaps solving my problem.

I agree with dockless not being perfect, being defined for what it's not, but it's rather clear and widely adopted in the public/media and literature even.

Branding of the tech, in terms of the innovation they bring, is important for BSS. The 'smart' bikeshare promotions of a few years ago are a good example of this (e.g., Vancouver, Portland). I wonder if tech providers don't *want* to promote the dockless nature as a selling point? What's your impression from interacting with them?

Personally I'd just like something that is clear and can be used as an acronym.
DBSS and BSS work well for now. What you call hybrid BSS (HBSS), have become less visible for me. Probably due to the 'dockless' systems taking away their shine, I wonder?

What are you seeing in terms of station-based BSS growth? Is it still the 'gold standard', more expensive but operating under local governance and longer lasting without the controversy of bike blocking etc... Having said that, interesting things appear to be happening in Seattle in terms of a controlled experiment.

I'm happy to have come across this article though as I'll refer to the various definitions you've defined as well as those I've mentioned.

Kind regards,