Milan Urban On two wheels

Like this it’s useless: Quick update on Ofo and Mobike

If Ofo and Mobike can't fix their GPS accuracy, using them will be a scavenger hunt. Very bad.

Yesterday morning I left the house during the peak of rush-hour for the bus. No car sharing was available close by, so I considered using a bike. There was an Ofo bike supposedly right at the next crossing. I went for it, but couldn’t find it. Fine, I thought, there was another one just around the corner. Only that around that corner there was no bike. I expected it to be on the other side of the street, but the metro construction works obstructed my view and blocked my way. So I walked on to a third bike. You might guess that it was not there as well.

Until here, I had invested five minutes and walked for 300m from the original bike. That’s okay. But now I was left without options. No car and bike close-by, and off the public transport lines taking me to university. I decided to just walk on until reaching the public transport again.

On the way, I actually passed another two Ofo bikes that were not actually there. Then I saw that only 200m away there was a cluster of Mobikes. My thought was: Fine, I dislike riding them, but now it’s better than nothing. I arrived at that square, stood next to a Mobike, and then faced another challenge. In the Mobike app, I do not see the bike ID before I make a reservation. As long as GPS is accurate, that should not be a problem. But as I have pointed out, it’s not. So, good luck guessing on a square with multiple Mobikes which one you need to reserve!

I twice reserved the wrong one, but I admittedly was a bit lazy to search. Needless to say that I had reserved the two that were closest to my actual position. Oh boy. So I cancelled both reservations. I then wanted to reserve another one, but the Mobike app warned me that I already had made five reservations today and prevented me from making yet another reservation.

This is outright wrong. First, when I cancel a reservation, it rightfully says that I can only cancel five reservations a day. That’s okay. But I only had cancelled two. Second, that one is only allowed to make five reservations is a completely different story, and is independent from a limit on cancelling reservations. If I understand the warning correctly, it implies that I can make at most five trips a day.

I walked on in direction of the university. At the next corner, I spotted an Ofo bike. I checked the app. No Ofo bike was registered at that location. There were only two bikes each about 200m away. Since also with Ofo I don’t see the bike ID, I just randomly picked one as the one I tried to open and scanned the bike’s bar-code. Miraculously, it opeed.

Just to illustrate this: On the following screenshot, the blue dot indicates where I found the bike. The larger Ofo icon indicates where it should have been, had I trusted the app to find it.


And that brings me to my conclusion: With this non-existing level of location accuracy, this is useless garbage. If I need to do a scavenger hunt every time I want to find a bike, and then have to invest 20 minutes just for taking off, then there is not much benefit left for the simple commuter. BikeMe instead might not allow me to park anywhere, but at least I know exactly how much time I have to invest to get to a station. Unfortunately, both Mobike and Ofo suffer from serious weaknesses in their execution, and I cannot imagine that this will help to convert the car-driving commuter under time pressure. It won’t help both firms to finally become profitable as well. Very bad.

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