There are several challenges to running a mobility startup — there’s government regulations to get around, there’s safety of users to be kept in mind, and there’s a need to maintain a delicate balance between demand and supply of your vehicles. But Bangalore-based mobility startups are discovering that there’s yet another factor that they must consider while running their operations — the behaviour of the very people they’re intending to serve.
A series of pictures showing vandalized Bounce bikes in Bangalore has gone viral. The pictures show the yellow-and-red bikes vandalized to varying degrees, and left then to their own devices. Some bikes have had their tyres removed, and were photographed sitting by the side of the road.
Other bikes seem to have been stripped of their tyres and then abandoned.
Some bikes have had it even worse — there are bikes pictured which have been opened up, and their engines removed and stolen.
Bounce allows users to ride their bikes and park them whenever they’re done, which means that there are a large number of Bounce bikes just parked around Bangalore. This makes them an easy target for thieves, who strip them for parts. And vandalized bikes aren’t the only problem that Bounce faces — users have also been stealing the yellow helmets that that company provides. Some people have been collecting pictures of people wearing Bounce helmets while not riding Bounce bikes, which means that the helmets were presumably stolen after they took a Bounce ride.
Publicly shame these helmet chors pic.twitter.com/d5psjrUQy4
— Vigilante (@vigil_nte) February 4, 2020
India isn’t the only country where ride sharing apps have had to deal with theft and vandalism. Wukong Bike, a cycle-sharing startup in China, had to shut down after six months of operations after 90 percent of its bikes were stolen. Indian startups, for their part, have taken measures to prevent their bikes from being damaged. “We are working with the government to cancel driving licences of errant users. We are also rewarding good drivers and imposing fines between Rs 100 and Rs 2,000,” Bounce’s co-founder Vivekananda HR had said in an interview last year. “We’ll track vehicles with the help of users and patrolling teams. We have installed helmet sensors on scooters to know who walked away with the helmet,” he’d added. Amit Gupta, the CEO of fellow mobility startup Yulu had said that his company too was working on measures to prevent theft. “We’re able to recover most vehicles through the tracking system. In some cases where it doesn’t work, we turn to on-ground intelligence and citizens’ support. We’ve a dedicated bike marshal team which helps patrol sensitive areas and recover vehicles. The most effective solution is using CCTV cameras and active involvement of the police department to deter such incidents,” he said.
But Indian startups can perhaps ill-afford the additional costs that these vandalized bikes bring — Yulu said that it had lost between Rs. 40 and 50 lakh to thefts and vandalism, most of which had to be covered by insurance. Bounce, on the other hand, made overall losses of over Rs. 7 crore in FY18, while fellow scooter rental company Vogo had lost Rs. 39 crore in FY 19. Adding on higher insurance costs, and the costs of replacing bikes and helmets will make it even harder for these companies to be viable. Bangalore has recently been declared the city with the worst traffic in the world — it’s a shame that some of its own citizens are making it harder for mobility companies to fix its traffic woes.