Vancouver’s Mobi Bike Share System Is Just Weird

CC BY 2.0. Lloyd Alter at a bike stand with space

I wish them luck but there are a lot of complications.

Vancouver got Mobi, a bike share system, two years ago and just begrimed East Vancouver two weeks ago, (over objections of residents about loss of parking, of course, Dorothy Rabinowitz lives!). This was convenient because I was out on Commercial Drive for a meeting and thought I would give it a try. The system, with 1,400 bikes and 130 docking stations, is owned by CycleHop, so others may be used to this system, but it was my first time.

Optimized for Smartphone Integration

The system is sponsored by Shaw, a telecommunications giant, so I suppose it should be expected that it doesn’t work without a smartphone, unlike New York’s where you can use a credit card at the docking station. Signing up using my phone was arduous and took me about ten minutes, even with my big iPhone 7+. (They have an app, which I probably should have downloaded, instead of using the browser.)

UPDATE: subsequent to writing this post I downloaded the app, and it is far easier to use, the map is far easier to navigate, so those complaints related to the site should be discounted and if you are going to use this system, definitely download the app.

Mobi Experience

display on bike

Lloyd Alter display on bike/CC BY 2.0

Once they finally accepted my credit card, I woke up a bike, punched a code and my pin and it unlocked.


Helmet on cable/CC BY 2.0

Helmets, required in British Columbia, are connected to the bike with a cable lock.

helmet liner

Helmet liners are supplied/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Helmet liners, so thin that I doubt they would do much good if there are enterprising lice hanging around, are supplied at each station; unlike most people I saw, I used the helmet. It is the kind without any real ventilation and it quickly became hot and uncomfortable on a sunny 65°F afternoon.

This was a nice bike with lots of gears, clearly well maintained. (Mobi apparently has an effective team of repair technicians that have 20 to 40 bikes in the shop at any time.) I had a very pleasant ride downtown on a well-marked bike route.

bikes in a row

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The rate structure, however, for these bikes is weird. There are no 30 minutes free (that I can tell -- I may have done it wrong), but a flat $9.95 rate for the day that permits you to have as many 30-minute rides as you want, with an extra charge if the trip goes over 30 minutes. When I arrived in Yaletown the docking station was full; I had to dig out my phone and use their site to find another station. (I used the browser rather than app; it might be easier with an app.) If you are like me, from out of town, that also means figuring out your bearings and trying to read street names under the big circles all over their crappy map. By the time I actually got to the next station I was at 26 minutes after just a 4.86 kilometre ride.

This was not the easiest bike share I have used. It took me almost ten minutes to sign up from my phone, the helmet really was not comfortable and the first thing I did at the hotel was take a shower to wash my hair. I do not understand why, if I am paying $9.95 for a day pass, that I have to rush to get under 30 minutes, which was not enough time had I been going much farther than I was. I almost panicked when the docking station was full and I thought it was going to cost me yet another five bucks to find another.

photoshop of words

© Mobi

They also photoshopped the “return OK” and “lock failed” words on the screen here; in fact it is a hopeless LCD screen that I couldn’t read in the sun. I didn’t know their beep codes so had no idea whether I had properly returned the bike and locked up the helmet and felt I had to check my account when I got back to my hotel just to check.

After my Munich dockless bikeshare debacle I really wanted to love this system, but I don’t. It’s not intuitive, the signup process was terrible, the 30 minute limit isn’t enough and, of course, the helmets.

But to the credit of Mobi and their mechanics, it was probably the nicest bike I have used in one of these programs, to end on a positive note.