Behind this bucolic industry is a multibillion-dollar battle between China’s big tech companies and Silicon Valley, and the nightmare of vandals and parking.
If there is one sad fact that technology has taught us, it’s maybe that we just can’t have nice things. Now Washington DC has become the latest testing ground for what happens when technology and good intentions meet the real world. Brightly coloured bikes began popping up around the US capital in September like little adverts for a better world. On a recent trip two lemon yellow bikes were propped up in the autumn sun by the carousel on the Mall. A pair of lime green bikes added a splash of colour to a grey corner of DuPont Circle. An orange and silver bike waited excitedly for its rider outside the George Washington University Hospital.
The untethered bikes all belong to a new generation of “dockless” bike share companies. To pick one up users download an app that shows where the bikes have been left. Scan a QR code on your phone, the bike unlocks and you are off for a $1 30-minute carbon-free ride. Unlike docking rental services, which require bikes to be returned to a fixed docking station, you can leave your ride wherever your journey ends, practically. And therein lies the problem.
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