As a followup to the recent story that Edinburgh is consolidating its docking stations and hubs, closing some and replacing the remaining virtual ones with physical anchors, I took a look at the various types that are currently deployed in the city by Serco, the operator.
- Virtual hub [see above]. Nothing on the ground – the hub appears in the app and on the data feed, but only the bikes (if any) indicate the presence of the docking station. In this particular case, the app/data showed no bikes available, but there was one bike there – presumably it was marked as disabled or there was a GPS issue, although at a glance it appeared to not have anything wrong with it. Certainly, not having anything on the ground does make it feel that it is just an abandoned bike.
- Marked hub (mat) [see below]. Edinburgh is not using painted/signposted hubs which we are starting to see in some London boroughs. Instead, they have a plastic mat on the ground advertising the system and providing a physical “box” to park the bike in – complete with indications of where the front and back wheels should go. Sadly, the mats are not doing well in the Edinburgh climate – in this example, the nearby mat has been partially folded over on one side. The further mat has left the ground entirely and is wrapped around the tree in the background. The mats are also not nearly big enough for the numbers of bikes currently parked there. Being beside a construction site is undoubtably not helping either!
- Marked hub (chain). Although I didn’t see this on my most recent trip, Edinburgh also used, at least at the start of the system, hubs which were marked out by two of the bikes (not rideable) at either end of the hub, with a chain passed through their front wheels. Users were instructed to park between the “marker” bikes. This is also a temporary hub as it is very easy for someone to move the bikes or chain. However it does act as something on the ground – and above ground level – increasing visibility of the hub.
- Dumb dock mats [bottom]. This is Edinburgh’s version of docking stations. They are once again not fixed to the ground so are presumably temporary, although more permanent than the solutions above due to their size/weight. I am not 100% clear on whether the bike is locked to the dock when it is parked in it, but the size and postioning of the dock gives a good indication of how users should position their bikes at the end of a ride, as well as acting as a clear indication of why the bikes are there and potentially making the bikes less susceptible to vandalism due to not appearing to be “abandoned”. Users are allowed to park adjacent to the docking station if it is full, I believe.
There are various other docking mechanisms that Edinburgh hasn’t used yet – secured dumb docks, smart docking stations (with power and possibly data), painted and/or signposted hubs, and fences/cable locks. They key with most of these alternatives is they require physically attaching something to the ground, and a key aspect of how Edinburgh operates is with the flexibility of being able to move the hubs – regardless of type – based on demand and vandalism. The last one (fences/cable locks) makes use of existing ground-secured infrastructure but would require a slight redesign of the particular bike that Edinburgh uses.