Tuesday, October 10th 2017 at 3:53PM BST
For all the talk of autonomous cars transforming cities it’s entirely possible that another high-tech form of transport – free-floating rental bicycles – could get there first. Think bicycles aren’t high-tech? Think again: some of the “dockless” bike-share bicycles now appearing in European and American cities are equipped with modems, GPS units and monitors that can report on road-surface conditions or flag where protected cycleways are needed. Some of these bikes will soon also be able to measure air quality in real-time.
In China, a dockless bike-share boom is reducing car use in cities and even leading to forecasts that less fossil fuel will be burned in the future.
Unlike Velib of Paris or the “Boris bikes” of London, dockless bikes don’t need docks – they can be picked up and left almost anywhere (although geo-fencing tech will soon aim to make sure they are located in designated “home zones”). Not having to pick-up or drop-off bikes at must-be-found docks makes them convenient for users, who use the bikes for “last mile” journeys they might otherwise have walked. In China, where the new-generation dockless bikes first appeared three years ago, the numbers of people cycling has doubled, reports Chinese urban transport consultancy Far East BRT. “I’ve been promoting cycling for ten years, not just in China but around the world, and it’s hard,” Karl Fyellstrom, who works for the consultancy, told the BBC. “And then this bike sharing came along and it’s just revolutionary. I see this as really historic opportunity.”