Going without shoes can quickly teach us how to move in a better way.
Lose something, and the first impulse might be to keep looking.
“I came to think of it as a romantic notion,” David Costa, president of Embraer, said at the recent Bloomberg Global Mobility Summit. “Where you set out with this longing for something that you’ve lost, and it’s become this tragic. And in a way, it really isn’t, because we find ways of getting back to it.”
That’s true even when it comes to bicycles. Indeed, even in the case of a theft or loss, the process of recovering and resurrecting your lost bike might be so certain as to be almost an almost like a fait accompli.
That might seem odd — a chain in the streets sending bikes sailing in all directions, not a calculated act, but perhaps a wrong turn? But Costa’s comments reflect his company’s experience. Embraer, it turns out, makes an industry-leading rider-sensing system that lets you track your bike in real time using your smartphone.
That information can get back to you, obviously, but it’s also actually being used in the U.S. to alert police to bike thefts. “Whereas in other places you have the idea that someone might snatch your bike from behind you and try to make off with it, we can not only find the bikes that have been taken from the networks, but also where it’s been abandoned,” Costa said.
He’s also helping Embraer partner with other companies to offer a safety system for the public, too. Costa didn’t name any specific companies, but Embraer has been working with the city of Toronto in that country for several years now to make the bike-sharing experience safer. The program now has more than 400 networks of bikes that alert the users to hazards — including drunken riders, would-be thieves and other dangers — before the rider even crosses a station. “The best thing for the user is to have the data,” he said.
Most cities have at least some kind of smartphone system that’s used to track and report bike thefts. But London is known for at least one different approach to tracking and reporting bike thefts, and it’s putting a global competitor at a competitive disadvantage.
The Blue Badge London scheme sends out alerts to users who’ve dropped their bikes in designated locations. “There’s no effect to the customer, really,” said John Stewart, head of operations for Blue Badge London. “In London, the frequency of thefts is really quite low. So they’re not going to see an impact.”
We tried Blue Badge London’s program by walking across a bench to a general area of a big city park. I noticed immediately a missing helmet, something that should not be happening. With Blue Badge London, I found my helmet but was still surprised by the information — and alarmed. I felt I was caught up in the law that forces everyone to keep their helmets on, whether they choose to. And I felt the police were watching me — and potential criminals.
London is probably the closest thing to a perfect single-track system, complete with bike theft data, proven for years and regulated by law. All of which means that Blue Badge is desperately trying to differentiate itself from the likes of its rivals, who make it impossible to get the same sorts of personalized notifications that make Blue Badge London different.
It also means Blue Badge is fighting an uphill battle, competing against car rental companies and other types of bikes, which may be in better shape to go the distance in that kind of program. If you want your stolen bike to get back to you quickly, cheaper might even be your best bet.