When I first spotted Mobikes around here this summer, I was beguiled on many levels: the sharing ideal; the playful orange; the pop-up appearances and disappearances (like computer-game power-ups); their peculiar autonomy…
But when I had to pay money to actually use one, I was surprised by just how reluctant I felt… It took me hours to persuade myself. And if it hadn’t been for the July special offer, who knows, I might have resisted.
Curious, I had downloaded Mobike’s app to my Samsung phone, but couldn’t open it without paying a returnable deposit of almost 30 pounds – credit or debit card – no Paypal. I balked at the prospect of paying so much just to ride a bike for 5 minutes, even if it was the cute shiny Mobike which somebody had abandoned outside my house the day before, apparently to taunt me. After a lengthy internal struggle, (and a failed attempt to get my husband to unlock the bike for me,) I paid up on credit.
The app immediately spotted the Mobike outside and 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 ridiculously pleased with myself.
The bike wasn’t particularly 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!
Is it morbid to mention that at some point there will be a Mobike fatality in Manchester? It’s a statistical inevitability. There will already have been Mobike deaths in Asia but Google’s not particularly forthcoming on that topic…
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 one 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 been a practical boon, getting me to various places on-time against the odds.
So am I allowed to unlock a Mobike for someone else? – after all you shouldn’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 so shiny and new.
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 most exciting thing to happen here in ages… PLEASE LET IT WORK!!!