Plan Envisions One Dublin Bike-Share App to Rule Them All

Thomas O’Connell can find it annoying to use shared bikes in cities where there are multiple operators, he says.

Finding the closest available bike can be a big hassle. “I’ve hated the idea of having to download five apps,” says O’Connell, the CEO of Moby Bikes.

Dublin is no exception. Here, those looking to get around the city on a shared bike can opt to sign up for the council-owned DublinBikes, or for the privately run Moby Bikes or BleeperBikes.

Needing multiple accounts is one of the pitfalls that the National Transport Authority (NTA) has said it wants to eliminate as it looks at how best to expand bike schemes in the county, according to its draft Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy 2022-2042.

To head that off, it wants to look at setting up “interoperability arrangements” between operators, so that customers of one shared-bike scheme could use the bikes of another scheme, says the strategy.

A second challenge is different schemes vying for the same users in the same lucrative areas and leaving other parts of the city unserved, it says.

That requires the NTA and councils to develop a more coordinated and integrated network of schemes, the strategy says.

O’Connell, the CEO of Moby Bikes, says that setting up such arrangements could introduce new users to the service, by reducing friction and enticing those worried they won’t have the right app for the closest bike.

“It would make it a bit more accessible for people,” he says.

Frequent users of shared bikes say that while consolidating the apps could bring new users, a bigger issue is that there currently aren’t enough shared bikes available in the city to make it a reliable enough service.

A Single App

Making a single bike-scheme app would help customers, says the NTA’s strategy.

“While this requires commercial and technical arrangements to be put in place between operators, the NTA intends to pursue a programme of interoperability between bike sharing schemes within the GDA [Greater Dublin Area],” it says.

Hugh Cooney, CEO of BleeperBikes, says operators would need to work together and combine data to show all bikes on one app.

“It’s doable. From a technology point of view, it’s a lot of work,” he says.

Right now, when someone picks up a BleeperBike, a message is sent to Bleeper, he says. “There’s a lot of code behind that, that ultimately verifies things like that customer has an account, has money in the account, that type of stuff.”

Each company would have its own version of this code, he says – and he’s not sure who would cover the costs of any changes and integrations.

O’Connell, of Moby Bikes, says maybe if someone were to rent a Bleeper bike through the Moby app, it could work to have Bleeper send Moby an invoice for the trip.

But he’s not certain how settling the payments would work, he says – whether it would be pay as you go, or subscription-based. “As a private operator, as long as we’re not losing money on it and get people using the bikes.”

Says Cooney, of BleeperBike: “These types of things are always hard, going to take some time.” And it’s too early to say whether the costs would be worth it for them and if it would lead to increased revenue.

A spokesperson for the NTA said it was too early to say how costs would work out. The NTA’s draft Dublin transport strategy is currently with the Minister for Transport for consideration, said the spokesperson.

A Bigger Vision

Interoperability is a precursor to mobility-as-a-service, says the NTA’s strategy, which is where all transport options and payments are streamlined into one mobile application or platform.

“One app, and you can use any type of public transport that’s available in Dublin,” says Cooney.

The app would show you what bikes, buses, Luas and Dart options would be available, he says, and the user would be shown the route, and you could pay for it within the app.

“It would be very convenient,” he says. “No matter where you were you could open up the app, see what the nearest transport option is.”

An app like this is the end goal, says O’Connell. “One app for a city where you can connect to all public transport.”

Such an app is being used in Helsinki, he says. “That’s what a lot of the world is working towards.”

But the technology isn’t easy, he says, so combining the shared-bike schemes is a good way to start testing it.

The NTA says in its strategy, that it intends to investigate the potential of mobility-as-a-service in the Dublin transport system, tied into the roll-out of next-generation ticketing, where people can pay for public transport with their bank card.

The Wishlists

Kevin Carter, who lives in Finglas, says he uses the three shared-bike schemes every day to commute to and from work in the city centre.

It means he doesn’t have to keep his bike with him, he says. “And if I need to go buy something at lunchtime, the amount of time I have to go shopping is increased exponentially by being able to get a bike.”

Being able to see all shared bikes, no matter the company, in a single app, sounds appealing, says Carter.

“If you want to get people out of cars and you want to free up space on the bus, and you need people to be able to make those longer journeys by bike,” he says.

Others had reservations. Michael Fanning, who uses DublinBikes nearly every day, said he would be worried that DublinBikes’ app wouldn’t be as easy to use if more bike options were added. “They have a very good user interface and user experience as it is.”

It sounds complex, he says. “My worry is you’re integrating databases and locations of multiple sets of bikes, managing different types of servicing, and pricing policies.”

Private companies might be reluctant to open up to competitors, too, he says.

If there were more competitors for shared bikes, and if shared e-scooters arrive at some point, then a shared app could be good, says Conor Humphries, who lives in Portobello. “It might be hard to keep track of all the different apps,” he says.

But at the moment, he doesn’t see it as saving him much time, he says.

He would set other priorities, he says. “If I was going to have a wishlist, I think, kind of, having more bikes and having more stations.”

Cooney, the CEO of BleeperBikes, says his company is expanding slowly and gradually although he’s concerned about the economy.

They are conservative about plans for the coming year, he says. “There’ll be slow and gradual growth, but not planning on anything major – just don’t know how bad the economy is going to be next year.”

O’Connell, the CEO of Moby Bikes, says the company has 600 bikes at the moment, and is hoping to get to 1,000 next year.

He says that in other cities and towns, local authorities give subsidies to shared-bike operators for them to work.

“We’d happily operate in lots of areas of Dublin if we were getting a subsidy for it,” he says. “We have to worry about profits, and it’s a hard business to make money in.”

Moby gets subsidies from Westmeath and Offaly county councils to run there, he says. “It’s just a cold hard fact that the city or that the government need to pay for schemes if they want to have them in cities.”

Humphreys says shared-bikes work well in Dublin because cycling is more reliable than other kinds of transport, says

“The transport system isn’t perfect, the traffic system is a disaster. They fill a very important gap in between, and any investment is good,” he says.

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Author:

Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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