I love them – the idea of them; the orange, black and silver; the way they pop up like computer game power-ups… but when I was faced with paying a 29 pound deposit to use one, I must confess, I was reluctant.
It works like this: you download the app onto your mobile phone, like any other… and then you pay the deposit to open and use it. I had to use a credit or debit card – no Paypal option, which was annoying. I used credit so that the money didn’t feel so real, which is infantile, I know.
I was then free to unlock the Mobike which had been abandoned outside our front door! This was visible on the app, which prompted me to point my phone’s camera at the QR code on the bike frame, which triggered the bike lock to spring open.
Seconds later, I was pedaling through Whalley Range feeling very pleased with myself.
The bike wasn’t comfortable but it felt safe: excellent brakes. No gears, but luckily my area is flat apart from a few railway bridges, the slopes of which aren’t too steep. And now here I was, coasting down one of them, dodging the huge pot-holes… without a helmet, oh dear, never mind! I was now one of those cool people I’d seen riding a Mobike, and they never seem to wear helmets, and they all look very healthy with their skulls intact!
When I reached my destination I parked the bike up on its stand, and manually flicked the lock back into place.
This is supposed to automatically end the ride and the pay-as-you-go charge, although on another occasion this didn’t work, and I was charged for 6 hours after I’d finished using the bike. I got a refund after complaining through the app’s Customer Service messaging service.
On average I’ve been charged around 50p per ride… I think this is for any ride up to half an hour duration… and I have been asked to add funds, minimum 5 pounds at a time, using my credit card.
I’ve found the investment worthwhile so far… as well as being psychologically uplifting, Mobike has got me to various places on-time against the odds.
So am I allowed to unlock a Mobike for someone else? – after all you don’t need your phone to end the ride. I imagine you’re not supposed to, but Mobike can’t prevent it. Can I unlock more than one Mobike at once for myself and a friend to use? No – they’d want the other person to download the app themselves. But what if that person has no bank card, for instance a teenage son or daughter? Can I pay for more than one Mobike app? And are under-16s allowed to ride Mobikes at all? I emailed Mobike customer service with these and other questions weeks ago and they never got back to me.
So I assume lots of young people are excluded from the Mobike experiment. I imagine this explains the high number of vandalised Mobikes in Manchester. The theory that modern Mancunians don’t know how to share, put forward by a Guardian columnist, is premised upon the assumption that we all have equal access to Mobikes, which we don’t. Many people are completely excluded from the scheme. For them the Mobike is not a shiny orange symbol of co-operative loveliness and ecological virtue… but a symbol of social exclusion, particularly provocative to those too young to drive, who are therefore more likely to covet shiny new bikes thrust in front of their noses.
Of course youths in Asian cities may be similarly excluded from their local bike share schemes, and may simply accept this state of affairs with stoicism, a mindset to which our city’s youth can only aspire.
But as our culture teaches us to exploit vulnerability, it’s unsurprising that individual Mobikes make irresistible targets.
So does Manchester have the right psyche for Mobike? I really hope so… and I hope Mobike can find ways of reaching out and including some of those who can’t currently access the scheme legally. The vandals will get bored, and the bikes will seem less attractive when they’re no longer shiny.
If Mobike can stick it out here, Manchester stands to benefit so much in the long run: air quality, traffic congestion, journey times, road safety, people’s attitudes to transport and to sharing things in general, even if there will be the odd inevitable death. Since when did Mancunians ever let death get in the way of progress?
Mobike is the best thing to happen here in ages… PLEASE LET IT WORK!!!
Postscript November 2017
Where have all the Mobikes gone? Vanished overnight!
Cancelled my subscription and got my £29 back!
Postscript New Year 2018
I spotted Mobikes near the universities not long after their “mass disappearance”, but it was a while before they reappeared in Whalley Range. I have renewed my subscription for just £1, which is cool!
Postscript Summer 2018
I’m massively irritated to have been fined £5 for parking a Mobike near home in Whalley Range, where I have always parked in the past without a problem (- the bike is never there for long.) Apparently Mobike has introduced a new parking zone surrounded by a “geo-fence” within which the bikes must be parked to avoid future fines; it’s not very big, and doesn’t include my area which is only 2 miles from town. It also doesn’t seem to include Salford Quays which seems very strange as I would have thought that area would be ideal for Mobikes as it’s so bicycle-friendly.
I’ve emailed Mobike explaining that I’m unlikely now to use their service given that I live outside their very exclusive parking zone. It’s a sad day.
Postscript September 2018
The press release reads:
“Mobike launched in Manchester in July 2017, with Mancunians taking some 250,000 trips, cycling over 180,000 miles. However, during the summer Mobike suffered increased bike losses dues to theft and vandalism in the city.”
Note they make no mention of their stupid geo-fence fines which gave many of us no choice but to abandon the scheme.