Tokyo cyclists get smartphone bike sharing

Tokyo cyclists get smartphone bike sharing

Dial-a-ride adds cell phones to the concept of communal bicycles
Cosoado software will power the new Docomo service.
“Let’s happy sharing, everyone!” Cosoado software will power the new DoCoMo service.

Sharing a bike may be commonplace in Europe -- apart from the United Kingdom, where we hear they call it plain old theft. But it’s still something of a rarity in the rest the world, including bike-crazy Japan.

That’s a fact cell phone giant NTT DoCoMo aims to change with a new service that takes the heavy lifting out of managing the cycles by using RFID-chipped phones and GPS to get users velocipedal.

Road trials

The company is in the process of hawking the concept of its new “cycle ports” to municipalities around Tokyo. It currently is trialing the scheme in nearby Yokohama.

As you may have guessed from the nature of DoCoMo’s main business, there’s a strong smartphone element involved.

Potential riders simply fire up a piece of software -- the Android OS Cosoado Cycles+ in this case -- to locate a port with a free steed for their riding pleasure.

Once they get there, the RFID (or near-field communication, if you prefer) chip that’s standard in most Japan-made smartphones can be used to both pay for and check the bike out.

Naturally, the same process works in reverse when it comes to returning the rental, with the software telling customers where they can make the drop-off. Rentals cost ¥100 for half an hour.

Although each cycle port can accommodate 30 bikes, anyone who’s tried to park a bicycle near a train station in Tokyo will tell you that’s a mere drop in an ocean of thousands.

Satellite spotters

One solution that DoCoMo says could feature soon is to do away with the ports and allow users to track free bikes to any parking spot using GPS.

If the scheme proves popular, it could put an end to the logjam at most bike parks and, perhaps, even the nightly sightings of liquored-up salarymen weaving home on conveniently borrowed bikes they’ve “found.”