Thursday, March 09, 2017

Anyone Got A Brompton For Sale? Pitfalls of Public Bike Share.

Over the course of the last week, I've had the opportunity to sample three of the major providers of urban bike share. Two were epic fails, and the third, initially wonderful, . . . well . . . read on.

Zagster's less than outstanding fleet at Maryland
First up is Zagster, who has been pursuing our institution. A meeting at University of Maryland provided a chance to test drive it. "Just load the app, and you'll be good to go," colleagues said.

The app failed three times at the same point (agreeing to terms of service.) Eventually running out of time, I end up walking the 1.2 miles from the Metro to Symons Hall.  Thinking I was the anomaly, learned from three others attending the same meeting they were unable to get the app to work.  The admin privileges of a couple of Zagster schools got them bikes.

At least this will provide a chance to try out the equipment. Less than impressive. Compared to the bikes used by CitiBike or Bcycle, Zagster's were the poorest quality. The locking mechanism was awkward. The bikes were showing significant wear and the ride quality was bad. I am thankful for the chance to experience the system . . .

Bcycle seemed great at the time (check out the basket)
Earlier in the week I used Bcycle in Fort Worth for two days.  Check in and out was the easiest of all three systems.  No need to reswipe cards and no need to swap bikes to reset time (a MAJOR pain in the ass in NYC).

The Trek-based Bcycle equipment rode well, and had the best basket system for carrying stuff.  While that generous basket was a bit of a challenge on one day with 20 mph winds, it was functional - more than could be said for either CitiBike/Capitol or Zagster.

I'll admit to having history with CitiBike, who from the infrastructure look is the same provider for Capital Bikeshare. Our trip to NYC and the use of CitiBike ended in a horrible overcharge - $36 each for a single day after we got messed over on overages. It was compounded by CitiBike support staff who claimed they would provide a credit, then reneged. After challenging the charges with my card provider, CitiBike again initially agreed to split the charges, then turned around and skunked our credit rating for having disputed the charge.

Needless to say, I checked out the Capitol Bikeshare with some trepidation. First ride was OK, and checking in at Dupont Circle was straight forward. Green light, on to the Mall for a pre-meeting ride.

That is when everything came apart. Arriving at the kiosk, "you have exceeded your number of bikes on this card." Huh?

Snuggly docked . . . but the system didn't read it
Three tries later, time to call customer service.  Emily was able to provide the chilling news. "Your last ride is still open."

All I could envision was some bike thief heading off and me on the hook. So, do I have to go back to Dupont Circle and re-rack the bike?

Nope. We'll "escalate" the problem and you'll be OK in about five minutes.

Great, cause I only have 40 minutes or so to ride.  Feeling better, I killed the five minutes by walking to another rack. "Your card has exceeded . . ."

Maybe I didn't wait five minutes. Check of my phone shows the call was 10 minutes ago. Try again. Same answer.

Calling back, a gentleman now explained that well, you probably should go back and re-rack it. That escalation means they might get someone there to physically check it within an hour, and they have up to 24 hours to deal with this.  He then added an unfortunate echo of my NYC experience: "as long as the ride is open, you are subject to extra fees."

Well great.

Wait a minute, he says.  Oh, I see what the problem is. The dock is jammed. No point in you going back to re-rack, it won't release for anyone bur one of our technicians. Still might be an hour.

Thanks much, that is the end of my day.

Returning to Dupont Circle, sure enough, there's the bike I rented.  In the rack. Secur as could be.  When I get back to my hotel I have a cheery voice mail from Emily. "You're cleared to rent."

Too late, time to get to the meeting. That's $8 - plus potential overages from the "open" ride - for a three block ride.

It all left me with a clear path - in the future, I'm not messing with any of these services except Bcycle.  Then I checked my email. Here's your receipt for additional charges from Bcycle.

So here is my bottom line review of these systems: They all suck.  Period.

Anyone got a used Brompton they want to part with? Over time, I think that might pay for itself.

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