By Andrew Seale
After selling off his education startup, a newly unattached Qiming Weng took some time to travel and figure out what was next. He visited Colombia, Japan, Australia, and eventually, China, where he stumbled on a new idea.
“When I first landed in China, I noticed these very curious colourful bicycles (that you could) unlock with your smartphone, take them anywhere and just leave them,” says Weng. “The idea just seemed so obvious… as obvious as hailing a taxi on your phone.”
To Weng, it signalled a shift in bike sharing, which in many major urban centres is still built around stations where bikes can be checked in and out. The one he came across was a new concept, a system untethered, instead relying on smartphones.
“It opens a lot of doors… when it's on your phone you can create all types of promotions, you can offer free rides if you’re riding over 10 KM or maybe the city would like to sponsor an event on the weekend and it’s free because they're supporting eco-friendly transportation,” says Weng, spitballing. “There is so much that software and the internet can add to bike-sharing beyond just having a physical bike.”
So he decided to bring the idea back to Canada, joining the OneEleven scale-up hub in Toronto and launching pilots at the University of Toronto, Queen’s University in Kingston and the city of Kingston itself under the moniker Dropbike.
The system, which starts at $1 an hour, is straightforward, find a Dropbike using the smartphone app, scan the QR code to receive the combination for the lock, then ride until you’re done.
Dropbike has been running pilots since the start of July. In addition to centring the business on clean transportation, Dropbike is hoping to differentiate itself from ride-sharing peers by keeping an open dialogue with partners.
“I think there's been a trend where tech companies – maybe out of arrogance – come in and do things their way and expect everybody to change towards them,” he says. “We think the community should be involved with how the system rolls out – that we're sharing the right amount of data, that everyone can see where this is going, everyone can see where the bikes are used the most.”
It’s that data that will help make Dropbike both a viable solution and powerful way to understand how cycling truly fits within the urban landscape. Weng is hopeful that after the University of Toronto pilot, they’ll be able to roll the system out across the city.
“It would be pretty amazing if in Toronto we could have the same amount of cycling as, say, the Netherlands where 40 per cent of (commuters) are on bikes,” he says. “How do you make this system really big, but keep it really organized? We want to answer these questions with the community rather than just ourselves.”