May 27th, 2018

Okay, Ramesh Ponnuru is funny today.

From Trump Is Right: Someone Is Out to Get Him:
President Donald Trump, “who has never been convinced that his aides have his best interests at heart, has felt increasingly aggrieved” in recent months. We have that word from two reporters for the New York Times, Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers, and it fits with what we have seen from him in public.

The reporters explain Trump’s anger as a function of his “sense of paranoia.” But this is typical MSM nonsense. Trump is absolutely right that someone in his administration keeps undermining him.
Bonus best comment: "The call is coming from within the house!"
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    amused amused

Dockless bikeshare posts from Facebook.

I posted my first dockless bikeshare post here on dreamwidth, even before Instagram or Twitter, and certainly before Facebook. No one said anything here. That, and the fact that it was harder to post to dw while out riding around meant that I never posted to dw any of the followups that went out to other social media platforms.

They're going out now in a clump, following this post.

Better late than never! :)

Posted May 16: At the Mass. Av. BRT Pilot Community Forum.

Note added here today: This was kind of relevant to bikeshare. The Q&A for this presentation ended up including arguments over the bike lanes that were painted onto Mass Av. a couple of years ago, after much debate. Both sides took advantage of this venue to reopen an issue I thought was settled already. Clearly some people still want the lanes to go away, and the people who got their lanes want to keep them.

I left after that because it seemed like the discussion was going to be about bike lanes rather than BRT.

Posted May 18: National Bike to Work Day!

Note added today: For National Bike to Work Day, Blue Bikes had a promotion offering a free day's membership for their system. (Blue Bikes is the new name for Hubway now that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has taken over sponsorship of the docked bikeshare system.)

This membership was a standard daily membership, which meant that for the day you could check out any of their bikes for a two hour rental for free, as many times as you liked during that day. I checked out two bikes, all starting at Alewife and rode for about three and a half hours total.

Posted May 19: Four miles down the Bikeway on a heavy, slow bike.

Note added today: I wanted to ride part of the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway, as much as I could in a two hour rental at least. I had to start from Alewife, because that's where the nearest Blue Bikes bicycle dock is. As it turned out I could have gone much farther than four miles from Alewife, but I got cold and rode back home to get warmer clothes.

The bicycle is heavy and only has three gears, so it is pretty slow. However, I didn't mean that as a criticism: it's really durable and solid, as it's meant to be. It's great for riding on the flat, or on gentle grades like the Bikeway.

Aside from riding out to Lexington and back, I also rode the length of the Fitchburg Cutoff Path into Belmont and back, and the whole Somerville Community Path and back. I'd wanted to ride all of these paths because I'd walked them all in the past, although in the case of the Fitchburg Cutoff Path it was before it was improved into the state it is in today.

This was fun and I'd recommend it to anyone who lives near the bikepath network. Some care is required crossing Mass Av. at Arlington Center and at Cameron Av. in Cambridge, as well as crossing Davis Square in Somerville, but aside from that it's quite isolated from vehicle traffic. Aside from having to cross some side streets what you contend with while biking is pedestrians and rollerbladers.

The Fitchburg Cutoff Path in particular was very lightly used that day. Traffic on the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway got sparser as I went west.

Mostly I wish for bikes to be available farther out along the bikeway. However, the agreement that Blue Bikes has signed with the cities of Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville means that their bike docks are only found in those cities. Unless and until other cities join that agreement, Blue Bike docks will not appear there.

However, the bikeshare docks are not the only way to do bikeshare. This leads to my next post.

Posted May 19: VBikes? I've never even heard of these guys! But here's one of their bikes...

...right on the Somerville Community Path.

Note added today: I found this bike while I was riding on the Somerville Community Path. The reason this is noteworthy is that another part of the docked bikeshare agreement signed by the four cities stipulates that no other bikeshare is authorized to operate in those cities.

This bike from VBikes, another bikeshare operator, is obviously in Somerville and is available for rental, and so according to many interpretations in violation of the agreement.

The issue is that this VBike is a dockless bike, and so it can be left by a user anywhere after that user is finished with rental.

The difference between docked and dockless bikeshares is pretty clear from the name. Docked bikeshare uses physical docks. You check out a bike from a dock when you want to ride it and must return it to one when you are finished. This makes for an orderly system with bikes in specified places, but it does so at increased cost: the docks are additional infrastructure, and docked bikeshare systems spend money rebalancing their bike inventory so that docks have some bikes but are not completely full (so that returning riders have an empty dock to return a bike to).

Dockless bikeshare has no docks but uses a lock integral to the bike which is controlled electronically, usually by smartphone app. A user downloads the app, which has a map showing the current location of bikes which are available to rent. When the user finds a bike they want to rent, they can unlock the bike with the app. They ride the bike to wherever their destination is, then lock the bike. The system then ends the rental.

Dockless bikeshare requires much less infrastructure but it also relies on renters to put their bikes somewhere reasonable at the end of the rental. This has often been a problem in other countries, including China, where the dockless bikeshare boom really took off. In general it's less of a problem when there are fewer bikes around, but because there aren't docks where you can reliably find a bike, it's important for convenience to have a number of bikes scattered around a neighborhood so people can find a bike when they need one.

VBikes and Ant Bikes (a company whose bikes I found in Harvard Square) are two dockless bikeshare operators in the Boston area who seem to have decided that the agreement between Blue Bikes and the four cities is something they're not going to worry about, and have placed bikes in those cities.

Other dockless bikeshare operators, including LimeBike, and ofo, have concentrated on towns outside of the four cities with an agreement with Blue Bikes. Last fall, I ran into bikes from both ofo and LimeBike in Malden. LimeBike in particular has indicated regions on the map in its app showing areas to which you are encouraged to return a bike and areas where you should not return bikes.

However, these areas are just a suggestion. No dockless bikeshare operator I'm aware of actually prevents you from locking a bike and thus ending its rental in a location they're not allowed to operate.

What is supposed to happen, and what the dockless bikeshare operators say they will do, is that they will collect bikes that have ended up in places they're not supposed to be and move them to places they belong.

In practice, this does not happen in any sort of timely manner. This is because the dockless bikeshare operators have all embraced a low-cost, minimal infrastructure model, and have few employees dedicated to moving bikes compared to docked bikeshare operators. Part of the point of the dockless bikeshare business model is to operate at lower cost and offer bicycle rental at a cheaper price.

So far, the bikeshare situation in Greater Boston has not gotten out of hand the way it has in various cities around the world, where bikes have ended up clogging popular locations, like the entrances to metro stations and other transit hubs, or in front of large buildings. But it is something to watch for.

The city of Boston has also begun impounding dockless bikes found in the city at a facility in South Boston, as they are in violation of their agreement with Blue Bikes. Where they will find additional labor to continue doing this and money to pay for that labor remains to be seen.

Posted May 20:

‪I'm idly wondering whether anyone would be upset if I started moving dockless bikeshare bikes out of the prohibited cities before they get impounded. Or even if anyone would care.

The flareup involves a Cambridge startup called Ant Bicycle. Its dockless bikes—which users unlock with an app—can be left anywhere, though they’re not welcome in Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville, which have an exclusive deal with the more traditional bike-share system Blue Bikes (formerly Hubway), wherein users return the bikes to special kiosks about the towns.

Boston has been impounding the Ant bikes, and Somerville and Cambridge are warning the company to stay off its streets.
Note added today: I'd like to have some bikeshare bikes nearby, and my town has not joined the agreement, so there are no bikeshare docks near me. If these bikes are going to be impounded by Boston, wouldn't it be better if I moved some of them out of those cities and nearer to me?

Probably it'd be better if I used a truck.

Posted May 21:

Matt Levine posted an article Friday about "the venture-capital-subsidized perpetual-loss-leading user-growth-at-any-cost economy". It seems applicable to the dockless bikeshare business.

(As of this weekend, I count five companies with bikes on the ground here in Greater Boston: Ant Bikes, LimeBike, ofo, VBikes, and Zagster. One other operator, Spin, has announced they will be bringing bikes here soon as well.)

Note added today: There's quite a lot of underpants gnomes about the business model around dockless bikeshare. In its most irresponsible form, the model goes something like this:
  1. Have lots of cheap bikes built, rentable with an app

  2. Dump them all over the place

  3. ...

  4. Profit!
The world's biggest dockless bikeshare operator, ofo, has raised something over $2 billion with this kind of model. Their next biggest competitor, Mobike, has raised on the order of a billion and a half dollars.

Posted May 24: Zagster in Salem.

I think they're doing both docked and dockless bikeshare.

Note added today: When I first read about Zagster it seemed like they were entering the dockless bikeshare market, but so far all the ones I've seen have been docked.

However, it looks like their bikes can be used either as docked or dockless. Their only connection to the dock was a cable that locked to the integral wheel lock. It also looked like the dock itself was simply a frame for each bike with the cable that attached to the bike. I've since read that Zagster is doing both docked and dockless bikeshare in different places. This bike/dock combination certainly makes it look like the bikes could easily be used as dockless bikes if they decided not to use the dock. The checkin/out procedure looks like it works just like some other companies whose bikes are all dockless, as it doesn't actually the docks to process the rental at all.

This is clever, because it means their bike inventory is flexible between docked and dockless systems, and when they do use docks their docks are cheaper because they don't have to have processing power or locking systems in the dock. The bike and the app do it all, leaving a dock that's little more than a bike rack with some attached cables and a branded sign.