Bike Sharing in 10 Steps | Step 2: The concept

Free Floating or Station-based Sharing?

6. May 2021 | Readingtime 4 min

Barshare station based

On the way to becoming a successful bike sharing provider, it is important to decide which form of provision is suitable for your own business model. The three common methods you can choose from are free floating, round-trip sharing and one-way sharing. This article explains the three options, as well as their respective benefits and challenges.

1. Free Floating – End your booking wherever it suits you

This is the concept of free floating sharing. Here, the free-standing bikes are not located at fixed stations, but can be borrowed and parked again throughout the city. In order to see where an available bike is, riders use the corresponding sharing app, with which they can then unlock and lock the bike's bike lock in just a few clicks. In addition, free floating offers are often used spontaneously when potential riders happen to pass a vehicle. For the rider, this means maximum flexibility.

Sharing providers define a geographical area and thereby determine where the bikes may be parked. This usually includes entire city centres. Users park the bikes within this area to properly complete the booking. The area of free floating sharing should represent an intersection of flexible use and desired action space.

With this type of sharing, it is recommended to provide a larger fleet in order to serve as large an area as possible and reach as many people as possible.

Free Floating Model

2. Not all station-based sharing is the same

There are several options available to you to shape the sharing in terms of your wishes and requirements: Do you prefer a virtual or physical station? Do you want round-trip sharing or one-way sharing on the road?

2.1 Virtual station

A virtual station is a defined spot on a map. Similar to the Free Floating concept, a geofence area is defined in which the booking may be terminated. However, this area covers a much smaller radius. An example of such a virtual station is a car park.

2.2 Physical Station

The second type of station is the physical station. Here the bikes are located at a fixed, tangible bike station. This physical connection has three advantages over free floating and the virtual station:

1. The bikes are firmly anchored in the station and thus secured (in the above-mentioned variants, this is done by the frame lock). 
2. In the case of e-bike sharing, the bikes are automatically charged.
3. The station and app can communicate with each other. This option allows users to see how many of the available slots actually have bikes and to what extent they are charged. This tells riders at which station they can drop off their bike.

2.3 Station-based round-trip sharing

In addition to the stations, there are also different sharing concepts.

A characteristic of station-based round-trip sharing is that users pick up the bike at a station and return it to exactly this station after completing the booking. The advantage for sharing providers is that their bikes are always returned to the exact location defined by them.

This type of sharing is particularly suitable for sharing providers with only one or a few sharing stations or stations whose locations are further apart.

2.4 Station-based One-Way Sharing

For sharing providers with several stations, station-based one-way sharing is a good option. Here riders have the option of dropping off their bikes at several stations of the same provider. This form of use is particularly popular in commuter traffic, as users can easily use the bike to get to the station and park it there, for example. This offers users more flexibility.

As an uneven distribution of bikes at the stations will creep in over time, it is advisable to include the redistribution of bikes to the stations as a regular measure in the operational processes.

How such one-way sharing can look in practice is illustrated by the example of Merano Bike Sharing.

All the options mentioned can also be mapped by the MOQO platform.

stationbased model

3. The Sharing Station in Practice - Example Energy Provider Barnim

One sharing provider that has decided to use station-based one-way sharing is BARshare.

BARshare already relied on MOQO for car sharing and was launched by Kreiswerk Barnim GmbH. The Barnimer Sharing offer already includes numerous vehicles - largely electric cars and Cargobikes. Due to the high demand of the existing sharing offer, BARshare planned to expand its sharing fleet with pedelecs with a physical station including charging infrastructure. The choice fell on the bikes and station from Velocity in Aachen. In order to offer users the most pleasant and consistent sharing experience possible, the bike sharing should run on the same platform as the rest of the sharing offer. Together and in partnership, the Velocity service in the form of BARshare stations and the bikes were integrated into the system so that the expanded sharing offer could start in spring 2021.

This project shows the value of partners working together.

Bike Station BARshare provider

Which Sharing Form is the Right One - Criteria at a Glance

The examples of BARshare and Meran Bikes make it clear that there is no blanket answer to this question. Whether free floating, one-way or round-trip - each form has its advantages and its challenges. The decisive factors are the target group and the given infrastructure. The following is a summary of the most important criteria you should consider when making your decision:

Free Floating

  • Regular recharging must be taken care of
  • A larger fleet of bikes makes sense in order to ensure area coverage. 
  • A regular redistribution of the bikes is recommended in order to use the bikes again at strategically sensible locations.
  • The offer is attractive for spontaneous users 

Station-based one-way sharing

  • A recharge can take place when the bike is returned 
  • Users always know exactly at which location they can rent bikes
  • Multiple stations can offer users more flexibility 
  • Suitable for commuters 
  • Redistribution of bikes should be provided for
  • Additional locking option through physical station 

Station-based round-trip sharing

  • Recharging can take place when returning the bike
  • Availability is guaranteed even with very small fleets 
  • Can also make sense with several stations 
  • Equal distribution of bicycles 
  • Additional locking option through physical station 

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