Two serious IT/system problems at Bicing

They screw up, you pay.

My bike was stolen, so instead of getting another one (which I’d either have to carry up to the attic every night or which would be stolen too) I decided to give Barcelona’s Bicing a try. The official deal was 30€ per annum (now 35€) and no usage charges for rides of less than 30 minutes. What actually happens is rather different.

Problem number 1 came on 5/1. I took a bike out at Riera Alta, but it was broken so I docked it again immediately. My histórico de uso shows that I was billed for €231, but the corresponding PDF shows 0€. I wrote and asked them to reassure me that I wouldn’t be billed for the higher sum, and got a nice message back saying, “Oh, of course not!” but no explanation as to how their data became screwed, or how they intend to fix it.

As you can see from the histórico de uso screengrab above, problem number 2 started today at 16:38 and is still ongoing. I took a bike from station 402 on Passeig de Colom and docked it correctly – unable to remove bike, red light showing – at station 187 opposite the Guardia Civil on Carrer de Sant Pau.

20 minutes later, after a coffee with someone, I tried to take a bike from station 415 but the system informed me that I still had one in use. I called incidencias, who said that they couldn’t help me if I didn’t know the number of the station where I had left the bike. I trotted back to 187, called again and was informed that they couldn’t help me if I couldn’t tell them my NIE.

And so I trotted all the way back to Gracia, called again, and was told they couldn’t really help me if I didn’t know the number of the bike (the PDF demonstrates that the system correlates user and bike numbers, but they don’t seem to know that). And anyway, it was all my fault.

So now I’m being billed at 3.70€ an hour with a final extra charge of 180€ due at 16:38 tomorrow, making a total of 270€. That’s assuming they don’t work out what went wrong before then, but if money’s that easy to make then why should they bother?

The system is clearly poorly programmed, but I wonder whether the docking stations haven’t been hacked. Both problems I’ve had were in the Raval, which is scamville for up and coming artists. Are bikes being stolen and exported to Tetuan or Chandigarh?

It has to be said that the rest of the service is extremely crap. The main problem is availability of bikes and docking space. People prefer to cycle downhill towards the sea, and to cycle to the shops but not back, but no account seems to be taken of this in the redistribution model, and it’s common to find no functioning bikes within walking distance in a middle-class, hillside, biking neighbourhood and no docking space downtown. So for a journey that should take 15 minutes you need to add a substantial margin at either end for finding and parking. The bikes themselves are fine – as long as they’re not broken, and they’re not broken as much as I expected.

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  1. Let’s get this right: you thought the aim of a public service was to serve the public?!

  2. The problem more than anything is the hilly nature of Barcelona isn’t it. The least green bike scheme in the World as nobody will cycle uphill therefore there are a constant stream of lorries carrying bikes uphill!! Could this be teething problems with the system? Valencia’s system had similar issues to start with but seems to hav calmed down now (Or people have stopped complaining!)

  3. @EntSolo – the service launched 3 years ago. Can you still call that ‘teething problems’?

    But yours and Trev’s point about the downward slope in much of the city is a pretty obvious problem that I’d never thought of. I guess the other cities with bike sharing schemes are flatter/occupied by less or fewer lazy people.

  4. It could surely be fixed by differential charging based on vertical displacement. No free lunch, no free wheelers.

  5. I think bicing has data problems. I had 2 incidences.
    1) I showed my card in a station at maria christina. It told me to get bike no 4. When I went to get it the bike light showed red and green and I can´t remove it at all. So that means I can´t take the bike. I use the card again and it shows I am using the bike. I called incidencias and went home and while talking with them about DNI etc I checked on internet and saw my bike was returned after 26 minutes in the history of use. But I could see the bike there all the time.

    2) I took the bike from bailen and returned in in passeig de gracia. When I put my bike, it was red and it was returned correctly. Next day I check my history of use, and it shows bike in use. I call them, and they asked me the bike number, station number bla bla… I could tell the station number of origin and I could also remember the slot number. So they gave me the bike number and told me to find it out in the destination station. When I went to destination I still saw the bike and now the light was red-green alternating. I made video and I went back and informed them. They say I inform them too late…it has been a day and they will charge and I will lose my membership.!!!!

    I feel I have been robbed!

  6. User numbers have dropped quite dramatically, but I don’t think they’ve told us why. I had my account on a foreign credit card which I basically killed when they screwed up to stop them charging me unfairly like I’m afraid they’re going to do to you.

  7. I’m really glad I’m too lazy to ride a bike. Because I’ve never been too lazy to commit arson, and I think that if I’d had Trev’s problem, never mind Sakib’s, I’d be burning bike stands like a Culé on cup final day. Through probably with considerably less indulgence from the forces of law and order.

  8. Apart from the whole Babylon thing in general, Clear Channel is not a million miles away from being the Bush family’s media arm, and everyone knows it. So why do they throw rocks at fat old Barcelona cops and miss, when there’s all that burnable distributed all around town? I just don’t get it.

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