Bike rentals act against misuse

Hit by theft of spares, vandalism and irresponsible parking, rent-a-bike companies are now using tech to rein in errant users
Last Updated 19 February 2020, 15:25 IST

Bike rental companies are working on strategies to curb theft, vandalism and reckless driving.

Companies such as Bounce and Yulu had run into serious problems: many users were parking their vehicles randomly, stealing parts, and even vandalising them.

Bounce, a company whose yellow-coloured bikes are seen all over the city, has started acting against users who damage its vehicles.

Ankit Acharya, lead, corporate communication, Bounce, says, “Initially, we did face a lot of challenges with vandalism and theft of spare parts. However, in the last few months, we have come up with stringent measures and seen a drastic reduction of such cases.”

Tech is providing solutions. Helmets are connected by Bluetooth to the scooters, and this ensures that a Bounce user can’t end a trip without returning the helmet. Theft of helmets was a major problem in the initial months.

“Apart from tech solutions, we are also concentrating on user education,” he says.

Is blacklisting a solution? It does create a healthy fear, companies say. Bounce has banned many users in the past few months.

“About one to one-and-half lakh people use Bounce every day. If they are banned, they will have to go back to challenges like parking and waiting for a cab or auto,” explains Acharya.

Working with cops

Bounce has been working closely with the Bengaluru and Hyderabad police.

A hotline allows the police to inform the company about rash riding, unlicenced riders, and scooters parked randomly.

“The government understands this is a noble initiative. Vandalism has come down drastically with the tech measures we have taken. We have seen only 10 to 15 cases of theft in the last 13 months,” he says.

Industry problem

Sobin George, assistant professor, Institute of Social and Economic Change, sees vandalism of public property as a systemic problem.

“Initiatives like bike rentals have been around in the West for a long time. The problem here is that we have not prepared ourselves for such initiatives. The culture of respecting others’ property is lacking,” he says.

These bikes are convenient and affordable, and especially helpful in a city like Bengaluru. In time people will realise the value of such initiatives, and will treat the vehicles better, he says.

“Most of these rides are used by teenagers who don’t have a sense of ownership or responsibility,” he says.

What can be done

For Yulu, which rents out small motorised cycles, tech has kept vandalism and theft under control.

“The design of the product is evolving in such a way that vandalism has been minimised. We educate our customers. If people still don’t follow rules, we start to impose fines,” says Hemant Gupta, co-founder and chief of operations, Yulu.

Yulu is currently working on an artificial intelligence mechanism that helps the company analyse a user’s behaviour.

“We predict behaviour and take proactive steps. We also follow the ‘bring your own helmet’ rule,” he says.

Yulu is used by teenagers who sometimes don’t park at the designated spots. “Sometimes they park in the basement and we lose the GPS signal, and we assume it is lost. But somebody finds the cycle after a few weeks,” he says.

When a new service is launched, it attracts people of all sorts. The novelty factor dilutes in a few months and brings down theft and vandalism, says Gupta.

Nuts and bolts solution

To counter theft of tyres, Bounce has changed the shape of their nuts and bolts. This ensures people with regular spanners can’t casually steal tyres.

The company is also working on customising the tyres in such a way that they only fit Bounce scooters.

(Published 19 February 2020, 14:52 IST)

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