Saturday 12 July 2014

How renters and listers should use P2P bike sharing services

Summary: I've used Spinlister (a P2P bike sharing service) five times to rent bikes in North America and have also used traditional bike shop rental, bikes that came with Airbnb accommodation and city bike share in Europe, the U.S. and Australia. Based on my experiences I've provided some advice on how renters and listers can provide the most satisfying experience for each other and reduce the chances of losses and problems. Feedback is encouraged so I can add other perspectives.

Related Posts:
Creating a better for-profit P2P bike sharing service

1. Think about what you'd want if you were in the other person's position
- Much of the advice below is obvious enough if listers and renters both asked themselves: With a reasonable level of effort, how can I make this experience as successful and rewarding as I can for the other party? This isn't natural though so remind yourself to do it. Many listers are just looking to make some extra cash not create fantastic bike experiences for renters. Most renters are also focused on achieving a satisfying ride not on what the lister's expectations are.

- Pick up time may be too late to find out what the other party needs/expects so it's best to clarify this online first. Spinlister enables online messaging and it is worth communicating your interests up front.

- The most obvious renting and listing etiquette is covered on Spinlister's "how it works" page including: being on time, being flexible, responding quickly and making sure the bike is well-maintained and suitable.

Spinlister: How it works (listing)

2. Listers and P2P companies should remove inactive listings; Renters can then contact the fewest number of available, responsive listers
- Don't list your bike on P2P sites like Spinlister if you aren't still actually offering your bike or can't be bothered responding. You should delete your bike listing if its not available as you are just wasting everyone's time. This forces a renter to send requests to multiple listers and then tell the ones they don't choose - sorry to waste your time. Alternatively, a renter waits on your response unsuccessfully and then misses out on renting from someone else. This has happened to me in multiple cities. The P2P companies should also follow up with unresponsive listers and delete their listings. Finally, if your bike is temporarily (not permanently) unavailable you should still respond ASAP to advise.

- Renters shouldn't mass message multiple listers till they've given the first couple sufficient time to respond - generally a few hours is enough. Keep the first message brief just to establish their bike is available. It wastes listers time if you converse extensively with several of them but are only looking for 1 bike.

3. Most P2P T&Cs actually place full liability on the renter regardless of fault or fairness so do everything possible to prevent theft, damage and malfunction
- Current P2P bike sharing company insurance is a limited fallback for the lister only. Spinlister's actual Terms and Conditions (made less accessible in a PDF and typically read only when things go wrong) state that the renter is liable for all losses and damages (except wear and tear) regardless of fault (see below extract). This is unfair and problematic so while this situation exists listers and renters should do everything they can to minimise the risk of theft, damage, malfunction or other problems.
2.5 Damage to Ride. Renter shall pay Lister for all losses and/or damage to the Ride (except ordinary wear and tear that does not impact the usability of Ride), regardless of fault (e.g. Renter agrees to pay for the loss even though someone else caused the damage or is at fault). Renter is also responsible for all theft or vandalism losses, even if Renter is not at fault for making the theft or vandalism possible, and regardless of any measures Renter may have taken to secure or protect the Ride, including any instructions or security devices provided by Lister. If the Ride is damaged, Renter agrees to pay the reasonable costs of repair and diminution in value, if any. 
2.8 Repairs. If Renter experiences any malfunctions with the Ride during the Rental period, Renter should immediately notify Spinlister and Lister to obtain authorization for repairs. Renter agrees that he or she will be responsible for any unauthorized repairs or modifications to the Ride. Renter understands that Lister will not reimburse Renter for any authorized repairs without receipts. All repairs needed as a result of the use of the Ride will be performed at the normal labor rates and the cost of such repairs, including all parts, shall be paid by Renter.
Spinlister Rental Agreement (PDF)
- Much of the advice that follows below is driven by this issue of what happens when things go wrong. Given the potential difficulties and negative experiences that may result it's best to take measures and decisions to prevent things going wrong in the first place.

4. Do not list low quality, poorly-maintained or fragile bikes or equipment
- The P2P experience can go badly wrong fast when things malfunction, break, damage occurs or accidents happen. Much of this is preventable through listers not listing low quality, unmaintained, fragile or unreliable bikes and equipment. If it's not thoroughly robust and reliable for the period of the rental then don't rent it. The invitation to unlock the value in the bike you don't ride that's been sitting in storage for months should be resisted unless you first properly fix up the bike.

- In Chicago I got two hours usage out of a 2 day rental due to a broken spoke and buckled wheel on an old, unused bike that had a known issue with the spokes. The lister was lovely and totally honest but I still ended up wasting a lot of precious holiday time unnecessarily - walking the broken bike to a bike shop and then later to return it:

5. Provide sufficient details in your listing description
- I've provided an example of my description for my Spinlister bike listing below. You don't have to go into such detail but if you include information on at least the essential things renters might be expected to ask or want it will save a lot of everyone's time asking and answering questions. Often there are little things a lister may be able to provide that would really help a renter out and make their experience considerably more satisfying.

- More details allow for better lister to renter matching too. Some people may have limited time and prefer P2P bike sharing to be the quickest transaction possible. Others have an interest in meeting new people and helping them to achieve a great cycling experience in their city.

Spinlister: Single Speed City Slicker

6. Find out why the renter is renting your bike and their specific needs
- For example, I was holidaying in various North American cities with my girlfriend and we prefer to spend some time exploring cities by bike. That's sufficient information to understand that we: (a) need quality locks to use when parking our bikes; (b) need some carrying capacity (at least saddle bags); (c) are unlikely to have access to any tools or bike gear; (d) have limited time and (e) may have certain inflexible constraints such as the return time.

- Conversely, the needs of a renter who's a local resident and is renting a bike because their own is temporarily unavailable will be quite obviously different. So too will the needs of a triathelete in town for a competition.

7. Check the bike over thoroughly and resolve any issues and advise the renter online if the bike has any unresolved problems before accepting their request
- Even if your bike is good quality and well maintained you should always check it over thoroughly before accepting a rental request. If you do find a problem you can then fix it in time or advise the renter of it and find out if it will be an issue. Renting bikes that haven't been checked or have known problems is a primary cause of potential dissatisfaction. Simple things like pumping up the tyres are very easy for the owner but difficult for the renter.

- Remember that the renter generally does not have even the simplest tools to adjust the bike (e.g. tighten the brakes) so what may be a trivial adjustment for you as a local is often a great annoyance or time waster for the renter.

8. Always be prepared to adjust the seat at pick up time
- The renter likely won't have the tools to do this later and it is a major frustration and cause of soreness if the seat is too low or high. In Portland, I rented from a great lister but we both forgot about adjusting the seat at the pickup time. I then wasted an hour having to go to a bike shop.

- If a simple tool (e.g. allen key) is required to adjust the seat it is useful to offer it with the rental - you can provide just the single key required rather than a heavier multi-tool. This allows the rented bike to be adjusted more precisely later or bikes to be switched between people. Remember that people unfamiliar with a bike will often want to refine the seat height later as they find a comfortable riding position or become more confident handling the bike.

9. Always provide a quality lock and ensure it is used properly
- In Chicago the bike I rented for my girlfriend was provided without a lock. The only lock available was rented out with another bike. Unless you have pro-actively clarified online (before confirming the rental) that no lock will be available it isn't good practice. You should have as many locks as you have bikes you wish to rent. If your bike gets stolen you are unlikely to tell the renter not to worry as it wasn't their fault they didn't have a lock. For renters who do want a quality lock, if you don't provide one you are putting extra responsibility on them and constraints on how they can use your bike.

- Given P2P bike sharing services like Spinlister currently put the liability for all loss and damage on renters regardless of fault (Spinlister's insurance is for listers only as a fallback) and will charge the renter's credit card for the cost of your bike, it is especially unfair to not provide a lock. How are they supposed to keep your ride safe?

- Also check that the renter knows how to lock the bike properly and it meets your expectations (e.g. whether a secondary lock on the front wheel is required). See: How to prevent your bike being stolen

- Finally providing a quality lock allows for safer return of the bike if the lister is not home, plans change or there is a major problem or accident.

10. Provide a place on the bike to hold the lock
- While you may be ok with riding with your U lock over the handlebars, around the seat post or in your back pocket many people aren't. Providing renters a U lock with no place to attach it or hold it is quite inconsiderate. It also can lead to foreseeable damage such as scratches on the bike frame or the U lock knocking against lights or other attachments (this did happen to me with my bike in Boston). Get a quality lock that comes with a frame attachment. See: What type of bike lock should I buy?

11. For overnight rentals, clarify where the bike will be kept at night
- I've always been able to store rented Spinlister bikes inside but this has often involved carrying them up stairs or locking them in common areas. Not all renters will understand the dangers of bike theft in cities or locations with professional bike thieves (e.g. New York) and may feel if a lock is provided the bike is safe being locked outdoors.

- If a lister has concerns about their bike not being able to be stored securely inside at night they shouldn't rent the bike out. It just creates an unnecessary risk and liability for the renter.

12. Provide a suitable place to store all essential equipment (e.g. saddle bag)
- Even if you don't use a saddle bag yourself to carry things like your wallet, keys, lights, tools or other gear, it is an essential for bikes used for transport. So provide your rental bike with a saddle bag or other suitable storage. Buy a saddle bag if you have to, they are very cheap. Simple things like this add a lot to the enjoyment of renting a bike and being able to use it freely around a city. They also keep fragile equipment safe from accidental damage when not in use.

- If your bike doesn't have large storage like a rack or basket and you have a small backpack this can be a valuable additional storage method to offer renters.

13. Fit your bike with puncture resistant tyres
- If you're going to go into the rental business as a lister it helps to think about what a professional bike rental shop/service does about things like punctures. They don't just hope for the best, offer you puncture kits or provide the contact details of places you can go pay to get the puncture fixed. They put highly puncture resistant tyres on the bikes.

- I have Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres on my Spinlister bike and they do not puncture. See: Puncture-proof tyres are the key to reliable transport. I'm happy for a renter to ride my bike anywhere. Renters are able to use their bikes much more freely and go on much longer and wider-ranging rides if they don't have to worry about punctures.

14. Ensure your bike needs no special equipment or requirements to be suitable
- For example, you may ride with clipless pedals normally and it may even be feasible to use one of the sides to pedal with normal shoes but it won't be comfortable or ideal. Based on your type of bike determine how a typical renter would prefer it set up and use that as the baseline then confirm with each individual renter before accepting the request.

15. Be able to provide a suitable helmet if desired (especially if legally required)
- In a few countries and cities helmets are legally required. It's fine if the renter chooses not to use one but they should always have one if they desire it, especially if sharing unfamiliar roads with vehicles. Some renters may be fine with using your helmet. It's even better if you can offer a helmet that's rarely used. (In Melbourne, they can be had for $5 due to our city bike share scheme).

16. Remove all equipment that is unnecessary or not desired to prevent loss or damage
- On my single speed bike all equipment on the bike is readily detachable. So it can be fitted if useful or desired or removed if not. This flexibility is appreciated by renters as it either means getting a better equipped bike or having less gear they are liable for protecting from theft or damage. For a list of all of the equipment I use see: Actual cycling expenditures prove how cheap cycling can be

17. Arrange flexible and convenient pickup and dropoff circumstances
- I've found pickup and dropoff works best if the renter simply goes to the lister's house or place where the bike is kept. However, pickup and dropoff travel time/effort is an inhibitor to rentals so lister's should consider making it as easy as feasible.

- Dropoff plans can change so it's best if the lister has thought about how the renter can return the bike if no-one is home or the timing changes. If a quality lock is supplied and the renter is provided guidance as to a place where the bike can be locked up safely if the lister is not home then this is often most convenient.

18. Enable flexible changes of the rental period
- On Spinlister the renter typically books upfront the number of days they want the bike. However, in some cases the renter will find they wish to either shorten or extend the period. Extensions are typically easy to agree and arrange on Spinlister. Shortening the rental period after the period has started is a bit more problematic. Where relevant, listers and renters should discuss flexibility as if shortening rental periods is acceptable it is likely to lead to longer bookings.

- On my recent trip there were various times we would have booked longer bike rentals (1-2 days extra) if the option to shorten it later was readily permitted. Reasons for shortening rental periods include: poor weather, changes of plans and one of the person's bikes malfunctioning or not being that suitable or enjoyable.

19. Renters: Where feasible use your own lights or other gear that may break; Take off any equipment you don't need
- In Boston I rented a great bike from a really helpful lister (Brett). Unfortunately, the front light got shook off as I rode over a bump in the road and this broke the plastic clip the light slides into on the handlebar. This was a small blemish on an otherwise perfect rental experience. I actually had brought my own lights on the trip but didn't think to ask Brett to remove his lights when I picked up the bike. Next time I rent a bike I will remember not to take any lights or optional attachments with the bike.

20. Renters: Favour low-value, newer, well-maintained and robust bikes and take care of them even better than if it was yours
- Due to the strict liability P2P services like Spinlister currently place on the renter it is critical renters try and protect themselves by limiting their exposure to large potential losses due to theft, damage or even malfunctions and incidents that are no fault of yours. The best way to do this is to conscientiously choose lower value bikes that are newer, well-maintained and robust. Having read Spinlister's current T&Cs I would not rent a bike worth more than $500 or bikes not in use by the owner or bikes with any equipment that doesn't seem robust.
See: Creating a better for-profit P2P bike sharing service

21. Don't worry about P2P service T&Cs if you can work out issues and liabilities between yourselves
- Renters should be prepared to compensate the owner in full for any damages or losses they are responsible for and a reasonable share of losses that there may be shared responsibility for. They should aim to communicate quickly if anything goes wrong so that there are no surprises at the end. Don't worry too much about the precise P2P T&Cs as most people are reasonable and unreasonable T&Cs (such as those unfairly placing liability on renters) are usually not assumed or insisted upon.

- In the case of the spoke that broke on my bike in Chicago, I didn't contribute to it in any way and, after reading the Spinlister T&Cs with alarm, I called up Steven to discuss the situation and we agreed I wasn't liable for any repairs - Steven even offered to ask for a partial refund which I declined.

- In the case of the front light that broke, it's bad luck but not something that an owner can reasonably expect might occur during a 1 day rental (1 month would be a different story). Hence, I left an extra $20 to cover the cost when I returned the bike and Brett was happy with this.

Further Info:
The Guardian: Would you share your bike with a stranger? Spinlister hopes so