London-based startup Pedal Me is taking the trend of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and applying it to bikes. The company exists to carry a precious cargo around the city; passengers. To do this, specially adapted bikes, which were developed in collaboration with Dutch manufacturer Urban Arrow, are used. A smartphone app allows customers to request rides, get a price estimate and follow the progress of their rider as they approach.
Pedal Me’s unique selling point in such a congested city is speed; bicycles can travel much faster across London than traditional vehicles. To prove this beyond doubt, trials were run in summer 2016 which included tests over five different 2 mile courses in Central London. Average times were compared to Google Maps estimates for a car taking the same trip (estimates which in practice are mostly underestimated, time-wise).
The test results were clear: on average, journeys took 10mins for the bike and 19mins for the car. The verdict; once Pedal Me are operating at scale they should be able to complete almost twice as many journeys as cars. This potentially puts them in an immensely advantageous position compared to other MaaS providers such as Uber; bikes cost less to run but can do more.
This extra capacity allows Pedal Me the financial space in which to operate a responsible business model where close relationships with direct employees working for reasonable pay can be fostered. This focus on good labour relations will allow quality control over how employees ride and eliminate perverse incentives.
The plan is indeed to scale up the idea, firstly in London and then across the UK. If it works in London, with the perceived intensity and hostility of the road conditions there, it should be able to work anywhere, although each new location would come with a unique set of challenges. London’s network of separated cycle lanes is growing, but is currently nowhere near that of any city in The Netherlands. So as London makes the transition to a more cycle friendly city over the coming decades, as current trends suggest it will, business conditions for Pedal Me are likely to grow ever more favourable.
Despite this, founder Ben Knowles is pragmatic about working within the current situation: “The main issue we have here in London is training the riders to a level that we’re happy with them riding in traffic with customers on board. The things that are generally good practice for riding in traffic are not that intuitive, such as riding in line with the vehicles and being confident about taking the whole lane. It’s much safer but it is quite intimidating for new riders.”
“Our test is quite hard; you have to pass Bikeability Level 3, then there’s a handling test away from traffic, followed by a 30 minute test similar to the UK driving test, with minor, major and serious faults. If there are any major or serious faults, that could potentially end up with a collision, then that rider fails. We’d review at that point and decide whether to invite that person back again. A serious fault is defined as one where you only have to do it 5-10 times and you’ll have a collision and are taking evasive action; a major fault is any which fails the ‘Bens Granny Test’ – something which would either make my Granny nervous, or would result in a collision if you tried the same move 500 or 1000 times. It’s based on a risk assessment and we wrote the requirements of the testing to suit that.”
Another aim is for Pedal Me to act as a catalyst, to inspire others to cycle and think about cargo bikes in particular. This has inspired the Pedal Me team lead to introduce elements of diversification into their business model. Regular school runs and delivery of small packages are already parts of Pedal Me’s repertoire. Knowles adds: “One of the impacts I’m hoping it’s going to have is to increase the number of people on cargo bikes, because you’re showing people what’s possible, getting people thinking. We quite often have conversations with passengers about where you could get a bike like this.”
Innovations: Mobility as a Service (Maas)