To kick-off 2023 we present to you a report that is today’s snapshot of the world of shared bicycles from a customer point of view.
At fresk.digital we are curious by nature, and many of our former and current clients are active in travel & mobility, most recently NS, Blue-bike and Ravlling. By doing qualitative and quantitative research with real people, we are able to help our clients with their business challenges, and at the same time enrich our own knowledge of the field, which we can bring back to our clients again. As part of our own educational journey, we always try to learn and share, which means two things: we further enrich our knowledge with our own research and share it!
The world of travel and mobility is very broad and entails anything that brings you from A to B, so in essence this topic touches every single person's physical and digital life. And where the physical meets the digital is where we as an agency come in. We believe it is our job as creators to do whatever we can to make sure that our creations are meaningful for people and we do this one step at a time.
In this broad market we decided to start our research with shared mobility. There have been many developments and changes recently and we have never seen this many players in the field (from brands that focus on bikes and/or ebikes to scooters, mopeds and cars), who have been able to attract significant investments. However, at this point in time we are seeing investors asking for a return, resulting in the start of a market consolidation with quite an impact.
Looking at our recent clients, our experience, personal interest and daily life and current social topics, we funnelled shared mobility to bike sharing specifically. As part of our step-by-step approach, this is the start of our larger shared mobility research, where we as creators put on the hat of consumers and look at this world with a blank slate. This means we researched shared bicycle brands as actual customers focused on what was presented to us, we did not involve the brands.
In our approach we translated insights from our desk research, field research (where we performed 27 field tests for 11 different shared bike services) and our leverage point session into results, which we validated with 55 respondents in our market research.
Enjoy the read!
You probably see it with your own eyes when you are in one of the bigger cities of the Netherlands and Belgium: new transportation brands are everywhere. Besides the more traditional ones like buses, trains and trams, you see new brands in shared bicycles, electric scooters, mopeds and cars pop up everywhere.
With this many players come many vehicles, and unfortunately a fair share of nuisance too. Especially when it comes to mopeds. Legislators in the Netherlands are starting to get fed up and are responding with plans for legislation, which is not expected to be in favour of shared mopeds.
In the eyes of legislators the simplicity of parking shared mopeds is seemingly becoming a hazard, as they are often parked on pavements and in the way of the elderly or visually impaired community.
And while the offering of shared mopeds is seen as a sustainable option or alternative, it seems that it is not that sustainable as we all thought. The Dutch Kennisinstituut voor Mobiliteitsbeleid (KIM) calculated that a shared moped is actually twice as polluting as a privately owned moped, and just as polluting as a moped running on gasoline. This strengthens the belief of local governments to be more strict when it comes to shared electrical mopeds.
One of the more concrete laws started as of January 2023 where the Netherlands made it mandatory to wear a helmet on any moped at all times, also when riding on bicycle paths. This is expected to have an impact on the travellers choice when choosing between a moped and an (electric) bike. This is a great opportunity for brands that offer shared bicycles as part of their services.
Today, in the Netherlands the largest bike sharing brand is OV-fiets with over 20.000 bicycles around the country (in 2020 OV-fiets usage was 75% of all bike sharing usage according to the KIM). The Dashboard Mobiliteit website shows 17 more bike sharing brands with almost 10.000 bikes travelling around.
Dashboarddeelmobiliteit.nl: An overview of bike sharing brands and amount of bikes in the Netherlands
Governments and community groups have promoted bicycle sharing systems as part of intermodal transportation by allowing people to shift easily from transit to bicycle and back again. The many benefits of cycling, such as eco-friendliness, low costs, health benefits, and efficiency in congested areas, have encouraged governmental strategies to promote it, triggering a global growth of bike-sharing systems, often against the promotion of mopeds and electrical scooters, as we have seen happening in Utrecht.
The bike sharing market is in constant movement
In this research our focus is on the Netherlands and Belgium, two countries that have a good infrastructure in place to service cyclists, especially the Netherlands where cycling is part of the culture.
Just like the average Dutch adult, 98% of the 55 respondents in our market research and the 12 participants of the field research own at least one bicycle.
According to our research, this does not prevent them from using one or more of the bike sharing services available on the market. The majority of them rent a shared bike service a couple of times a year. And when asked about how they look at bike sharing services, everyone chooses words similar to ‘flexibility’ and ‘efficiency’, and provides examples like “the possibility to make journeys way more efficient by extending what would be a train or car ride with a bike ride that takes you exactly where you need to be”.
The participants who do not use a shared bike or do not use them regularly, either state that they have their own bike, or that it is just not in their system of habits (yet).
In order to make sense of the data we collected, we went through the pains and gains we noticed in interactive sessions and desk analysis. When going through this process, we gathered that describing a specific goal rather than a specific type of person using bike sharing services, helps us better understand possible wishes and improvement points of such products and services. In fact, the same person might have different goal-driven needs depending on the scenario they find themselves in when deciding to rent a bike, which is not always well described by just using the personas method.
For this reason we created a list of 10 scenario-driven archetypes connected to the different uses of bike sharing services.
It became clear to us that the best form of grouping was into categories: business scenarios and leisure scenarios. After mapping the main drivers we were able to prioritise them based on the type of ride and the different scenarios:
When looking at business scenarios the availability of the bike is more important than the price for the service. In fact, when using shared bikes services for work related reasons, these travellers prioritise the certainty of arriving somewhere on time (reliability) above price. This means they need certainty that a bike will be present and ready for their next appointment and have that bike awaiting them for their return trip.
For leisure travellers it is the other way around, certainty plays a much lesser role in their choice for their travel service. It is price that is an important factor in their choice. When renting a bike for leisure related reasons, these travellers make their choice by comparing factors like cost and duration of the rental.
Through our research method, where we validated our findings with actual people, we encountered several pains and gains.
For both leisure and business scenarios one of the explicitly mentioned pains was the inability to plan trips in advance. In order to be in a specific place at a specific time, they want to make sure that they don’t come across any hurdles in the process. The uncertainty of knowing if there is a bike available at the moment you need it (when planning ahead) motivates people to choose for a different transportation mode: “I know it could be faster than travelling by bus or walking, but I often don't know for sure that I will find a bike when and where I need it and it gives me an extra uncertainty that I’d rather not have while travelling”.
When asked more concretely about what would improve their favourite bike sharing, the answer was the possibility to reserve a bike. And they were even willing to pay a little extra to have that possibility.
Though there are many smaller pains we derived from the data, it was very clear that most of the pain we encountered was isolated to the onboarding process.
During the GOsharing onboarding flow for example one of the participants of the field research said; “way too many steps to go through. I'm happy I chose to do it beforehand from home, otherwise it would have taken me too long and I would have been late for my appointment.”
Though the flow itself seemed straight forward, the extra step to wait for a physical card to be delivered to their home, before being able to use the bike sharing service of Blue-bike, was a bridge too far for participants. Even when trying, one participant did not receive the card in time when needing it for their travels, and when arriving at the Blue-bike hub at Antwerp central station to see if they could talk to someone who could possibly help with his issue, nobody was present. They said: “I wanted to try Blue-bike but wasn’t able to get my account set up, around the station were 3 different bike sharing options, so instead I chose Donkey Republic.”
Buggy screens and forever loading confirmation states, have a huge impact on the overall experience of these services. We have seen examples of that with BaQme, where the onboarding flow took way longer than expected, and Bondi, where one of the participants had to open the app three times before the onboarding went well, as it froze twice while going through the flow. Also with GOsharing random error messages popped up that would refer to errors of the system without giving a way out for the traveller. One participant even had to call customer service to understand what was happening.
Often necessary, but not always done in the right way, identity needs to be checked. Cargoroo asks for identification in the onboarding process and validates if you are a real person. They do this validation before you can actually see the locations of the cargo bikes, which for the participants feels very intrusive. The validation steps are perceived as unfriendly; you have to scan your ID and go through a number of validation steps like talking to a camera and making a picture of yourself. This process is quite evasive if you are standing next to a bike, outside, ready to go on your business. At no point in the process were the participants prepared for this elaborate onboarding, and one of them stated: “If I wasn’t doing this field research, there was no way I would have gone through with the onboarding process, I stood there for 10 minutes getting everything set up.”
Another participant was surprised after they already went through the onboarding process: “I was ready to step on my BaQme bike, and I was in a hurry. Only after having chosen the bike do I get the notification that I have to finish my onboarding flow, by adding a document and some pictures of my face to prove that the document is mine. This took me 5 extra minutes, and I had to do it on the street next to the bike, with the worry that someone else could have taken the bike I was trying to get while I was busy with this process”.
This doesn’t mean that everything in the onboarding was bad, there were many examples of easy onboarding flows:
Some participants have mentioned the TIER onboarding flow as smooth and fast, while being quite informative as well, one of the participants said: “with the TIER onboarding flow I felt I received all the necessary information about how to use the service in a condensed and clear way”. In the onboarding flow, TIER was informative about the different zones where to ride and park and about how to unlock the bike and start the ride, without overwhelming the travellers with long screens and infinite steps: “having such a clear overview as a first time user of this service gave me a nice feeling once I’ve started to ride the bike”, a participant said.
Though the adding of a payment method cost a bit more time, participants who tested Donkey Republic experienced it as an overall short and easy onboarding flow: “I was not bombarded with questions, but ready in just a few easy steps.”, one respondent said.
On another positive note: sometimes participants were positively surprised by interesting features, which brought smiles on their faces:
More on the account level and less on the riding itself, our participants were very positive about the group feature provided by Lime. This feature gives the possibility to book up to 5 bikes with the same account, preventing your fellow travellers to go through the full onboarding flow. “One of my favourite features from Lime - said one the participant of the field research - as it made choosing a bike for me and my partner an extremely fast and smooth option”. This was then validated in the market research, and the possibility to rent multiple bikes with the same account was one of the most answered wishes from the participants of the market research when asked what they would have seen as an improvement point for bike sharing services. Blue-bike, Donkey Republic, HTM, OV-fiets and TIER also offer this option to travel with multiple people, though not all participants actively noticed this option at first.
Last but not least, there was much ado about the pricing of the several bike sharing services. At first instance bike sharing is perceived as an economical and flexible option in mobility. This was validated by participants who made use of for example OV-fiets, Blue-bike, Velo and Cargaroo, but some people were unpleasantly surprised. One participant mentioned about the GOsharing ebike: “I was shocked by the price for the less than 20 minutes ride, over 6 euros one way is a lot if you consider that my alternative option was either an OV-fiets or the tram for way less”.
We do find that how pricing is perceived is dependent on the scenario in which the bike sharing service is used. One great example on how to anticipate a more scenario based setup is Velo in Antwerp, a station based bike sharing program. Local respondents in Antwerp validated that it is not quite as normal there to own a bike as it is in the Netherlands, though the flexibility of doing short rides in the city is well appreciated above driving a car or using a more traditional form of public transportation and the infrastructure is in place. Antwerp is a city that harbours its locals, many tourists and shorter term business people. Whether aimed at servicing these different types of travellers or not, Velo has made a great choice by offering three kinds of pricing models, a day pass (5 euros), a week pass (11 euros) and a year pass (55 euros) which gives you unlimited access to Velo for the term you buy. This pricing model is spot on with the need of both tourists and locals: “Almost all my friends have a year pass for Velo. It only costs me 55 euros a year and it allows me to use the Velo bike whenever I want. And for me that is when I go out with friends or need to go to a business appointment that is a short distance from where I am. As long as I stay under a 30 minute ride, it will not cost me extra.”
As already mentioned, there are municipalities that promote the use of bike sharing services, the goal is to encourage people to use bike sharing as an alternative form of transportation in their day-2-day lives. This gives service providers like Blue-bike the ability to offer their services at a lower price rate (€1 up to €3.50) and in some regions it is even offered for free! When you combine this with a very sturdy bike, bike sharing becomes a great and affordable choice in someone’s travel from A to B.
By taking this snapshot of shared mobility focused on bicycle sharing and experiencing it with our own eyes, we were able to gather many insights that we believe will help with the improvement of the bike sharing experience. Out of these insights we were able to define an overall finding and 4 concrete leverage points that will help make an impact today:
One person can have multiple travel motives. One single person can be a business traveller, a tourist, going to the doctors, having dinner with friends or running an errand. Focus on these scenarios rather than limiting your view by simplifying one human's different needs into a persona. If someone is a resident of a city, offer a pricing model that stimulates day-to-day use; if they are in a different city as business user, make sure they know if the bike is available at the moment they want to use it; if they are away for the weekend as a tourist make sure they understand the pricing model, and what else they can expect when they rent the bicycle. In all cases understand different intentions and anticipate needs based on the different scenarios. This method of thinking is called the need based scenario method, and is at the core of how we look at the projects that we do for our clients.
When looking at short term leverage points, we see that bike sharing brands and services should focus on 4 different topics in order to achieve an optimal user experience for the travel of today and tomorrow, namely:
As we have seen from our results and analysis, the onboarding flow is where most of the pains happen currently. Time is precious, and we have seen many customers choose different services when facing long and complex onboarding processes. We need to make sure that expectation is met (don’t surprise people, anticipate their expectation), and that the onboarding process gives the necessary security without taking too much time. Keep it simple, balance the amount of data asked, and manage expectations to achieve an optimal user experience.
The new generation of travellers show us an increasing need for collaborative consumption instead of individual consumption. Not only to travel together, but to have the possibility to share an account with family members or friends.
Being able to share an account or using the same account to manage different products is one of the features that has been mentioned several times by the different participants throughout our research.
Small things can make a large impact on the experience of people. Creating positive peaks may impact the perception of the experience in a positive manner: having a holder for your phone on the bicycle makes things a lot easier, and having it charge your phone while you ride is even better. Also simple integrations such as maps and navigation, and more complex features related to tourist information and interesting routes when visiting a new city for example are ways to make life just a bit easier. People may be more inclined to use the services if it provides just a bit more happy features that enrich their lives.
Expectation is everything. First it is necessary to have transparent information about costs before renting a bike. Second it is imperative that the pricing actually matches the needs of the traveller. This could mean that there are different price points based on the scenario the traveller is in, like the example of Velo. It does not seem to matter if it is pay-per-use or a subscription model, both options can suit different goals.
With a scenario driven pricing approach the traveller is helped with the best price compared to their specific aim of the ride, giving them a more optimal experience. For a shared bike provider this could mean making use of dynamic pricing methods and technology to service the customers needs.
All-in-all 2023 is set to be a defining year for bike sharing within the shared mobility industry. Both from a legislative- and consolidation perspective as from market maturity and growing traveller expectations.
Our bike sharing research has given us interesting insights that we were able to translate into leverage points. This opens room for deep dives into topics like hub versus free float versus station based, business models for need based scenarios and more.
At the same time there are many more shared mobility services like cars, mopeds and electric scooters. This is why we have already started with expanding our snapshot to other mobility services so we can do an overall comparison parallel to our deep dives. You can find our snapshot of mopeds in 2023 here!
So, there’s more to come!