As cities worldwide grapple with the challenges of sustainable transportation and eco-friendly alternatives, bicycle rental services have taken centre stage by offering a solution that combines convenience, health, and environmental consciousness. Such services are common in many parts of the world, including the USA, Canada, and China.
With the traffic congestion and pollution in Dhaka, we do not have many transportation options that are healthy or safe. While rickshaws are always an option for shorter trips, the popularity of bicycles has grown manifold in the last decade among Bangladeshi youth, and so has the need for a bike-rental service, such as JoBike – which is set to return soon. Let’s take a look at Bangladesh’s first bicycle rental service, why they closed down, and how they plan to relaunch.
How they began
JoBike officially launched in Bangladesh in 2018, in hopes to combat the short-distance transportation problems plaguing the city. According to Mehedi Reza, the co-founder, and CEO of the company, the idea of a bike-rental service came to Reza’s mind while working as a product specialist for Alibaba.com in China in 2017.
Reza shares that he was inspired by the ease of smart transportation systems for short and long-distance commutes through rented bikes. He was supported by two of his co-workers from his former workplace, and together they found some angel investors for their venture.
The initial operation rolled out in Cox’s Bazar with 20 bicycles about five years ago. In its early days, users had to download the mobile app and open an account. The app would display the adjacent bike docs, and after making the payment, a QR code was provided. Riders could quickly scan the QR code to unlock the bikes from the dock.
The bikes were to be parked at a convenient spot after use, from where other riders could find the bike. JoBike has used technologies like GPS and geo-sense systems to prevent stealing.
As the service was extended to further locations, including the campuses of Jahangirnagar University, Chattagram University, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, and ultimately the University of Dhaka, the number of bicycles gradually reached 400 overall.
Why did they close down?
The business kept booming until the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. The tourist areas became empty and the university campuses were shut down indefinitely, leaving JoBike with no choice but to halt its operations.
However, at that time, the startup drew the attention of government officials because of the potential of implementing a contactless transportation system. In June 2020, the company launched 100 bicycles in the capital’s Gulshan, Banani, and Baridhara areas with the support of Dhaka North City Corporation, Dhaka Metropolitan Police, and the ICT Division. The pilot project ran for roughly six months at that time.
On top of that, the bicycles usually have a lifespan of three years, after which they need to be replaced. Since the bicycles they owned at that time were bought back in 2018, they became almost unusable in 2021. The kind of bicycles that JoBike used were not produced in Bangladesh, so they needed to be imported from China – which required a large amount of funding.
The company tried to enter the delivery business using the bicycles they had at the time to keep the operation from closing down. The firm, however, found it difficult to survive because of the fierce competition in the delivery sector.
Set to return?
Now that the pandemic is over and the local business scene is recovering, JoBike is planning on a relaunch soon, hopefully by the end of this year, as per Reza, who is optimistic that students still have an emotional appeal towards JoBike, which will lead to high demand once again. The startup’s upcoming goal is to enter large university campuses with a minimum of 200 bicycles.
Ten years down the line, JoBike hopes to replace other short-distance modes of transportation with a substantial number of bicycles throughout Bangladesh. They also want to explore the possibilities of solar-powered e-bikes, with a plan towards building a green and sustainable city.