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Google Loses Up to 250 Bikes a Week (siliconbeat.com) 208

What's happening to Google's 1,100 Gbikes? The Mercury News reports: Last summer, it emerged that some of the company's bikes -- intended to help Googlers move quickly and in environmentally friendly fashion around the company's sprawling campus and surrounding areas -- were sleeping with the fishes in Stevens Creek. And now, a new report has revealed that 100 to 250 Google bikes go missing every week, on average. "The disappearances often aren't the work of ordinary thieves, however. Many residents of Mountain View, a city of 80,000 that has effectively become Google's company town, see the employee perk as a community service," the Wall Street Journal reported.

And for the company, here's one Google bike use case that's got to burn a little: 68-year-old Sharon Veach told the newspaper that she sometimes uses one of the bicycles as part of her commute: to the offices of Google's arch foe, Oracle... Mountain View Mayor Ken Rosenberg even admitted to helping himself to a Google bike to go to a movie after a meeting at the company's campus, according to the WSJ.

One Silicon Valley resident reportedly told a neighbor that "I've got a whole garage full of them," while Veach describes the bikes as "a reward for having to deal with the buses" that carry Google employees. Google has already hired 30 contractors to prowl the city in five vans looking for lost or stolen bikes -- only a third of which have GPS trackers -- and they eventually recover about two-thirds of the missing bikes.

They've discovered them as far away as Mexico, Alaska, and the Burning Man festival in Nevada.
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Google Loses Up to 250 Bikes a Week

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  • No rule of law (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 07, 2018 @04:38AM (#55878945)

    Immoral behavior such as petty theft has been endemic to the point that public officials fear not confessing to committing it from time to time. Citizens take note: the rule of law is failing in this country. You are only as free as you can afford to be, if you are today’s lucky winner in the game of arbitrary and capricious “law and order”.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      How come that I'm not at all surprised by the bikes showing up at Burning Man?

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Social justice leads to entitlement, entitlement leads to theft, and theft leads to big corporations that back social justice losing their bikes and bitching about it.

        The force balances itself.

    • Re:No rule of law (Score:5, Informative)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @07:21AM (#55879315)

      Citizens take note: the rule of law is failing in this country.

      Bullcrap. Property crime in America peaked around 1990, and has since fallen dramatically [wikipedia.org].

      • Re:No rule of law (Score:5, Insightful)

        by swb ( 14022 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @08:37AM (#55879489)

        I think it's pretty localized. Where I live -- and I mean my immediate neighborhood -- property crime was non-existent 20 years ago. Now I hear about nuisance property crime all the time, garage break-ins, mail & package theft, car break-ins (including use of high-tech keybob repeaters). The city councillor even has started to acknowledge it.

        I believe that crime may be down nationally, but IMHO that's a useless statistic for individual locations where people live most of the time. It's badly skewed by large population centers and their localized trends as well.

        • Drugs are expensive.
        • but IMHO that's a useless statistic for individual locations where people live most of the time. It's badly skewed by large population centers and their localized trends as well.

          This is a heavily urbanized country, and people live in large population centers most of the time.

          • by swb ( 14022 )

            Yeah, but statistically significant portions of N live in 3-4 metro areas. If those areas seem some localized shift it can move the national statistics without other areas seeing changes.

      • Bullcrap. Property crime in America peaked around 1990, and has since fallen dramatically.

        The perception of the modern crime wave is based on the reportage of every single little thing across one's nation as if it were happening in one's own city. coupled with an aging population and the nostalgia effect of "the past was better", we have the incorrect impression that society is lawless.

    • Disrespect for rule of law isn't what's concerning. Many laws are unfair and harmful.

      What's disheartening about this story is the lack of human decency. Especially the guy hoarding bikes in his garage.
  • by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @04:41AM (#55878953) Journal

    I'd think it would be more the This-is-why-we can't-have-nice-things department.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @07:33AM (#55879343)

      We can have nice things if they are implemented sensibly. Shanghai has 1.5 million shared bikes. Theft is not much of a problem because you have to use a cell phone to unlock the bike, which identifies the rider. There is a small rider fee, charged to your WeChat Wallet, which covers losses as well as providing a profit that pays for expanding the system to more outlying areas.

      I have never needed to walk more than 100 meters to find an available bike, and it is cheap and convenient enough that it no longer makes sense to own a private bike.

      • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @09:31AM (#55879629)

        There is a small rider fee, charged to your WeChat Wallet, which covers losses as well as providing a profit that pays for expanding the system to more outlying areas.

        So you are saying after you are done using the bike, you get the Shanghai Bill?

    • I'd think it would be more the This-is-why-we can't-have-nice-things department.

      About 20 years ago, a small community group operating out of some local bike shops in Tucson, AZ tried something similar. They decided to assemble several dozen free-to-use bicycles out of various old, mismatched parts, and put them in racks around the downtown area for anyone to use. The idea was that the bikes were worthless for resale, so there would be no incentive to steal them, and people could borrow a bike out of one r

      • What interests me is that (1) Google failed to look at what had been tried in the past before implementing their program, and (2) continues to do it despite overwhelming evidence that it isn't working.

        Who says it isn't working? Just because it has a problem doesn't mean that it is a total failure.

        The prior model they used probably wasn't the Tuscon episode you wrote about. Long before Google came around there was Silicon Graphics (occupying some of the same buildings I think) and they had a bike-share facility that worked just fine and didn't have any GPS or other electronics for enforcement.

        What the article doesn't mention is how many Google employees are responsible for the misuse. If they had to

      • The idea that working bikes, assembled from "mismatched" (fitting!) parts, would have no value is absurd.

        The base price for a non-working used bike is about $15 if complete. $20 if it basically works, but sucks. Take that same bike and just give it a full "tune up" where a bike mechanic cleans it up, oils everything, adjusts all the brakes and gears, now it is worth ~$100.

        Go to a bike shop that sells used bikes and check! The "bottom end" is around $100 for a used bike in salable condition, and you have to

    • by paiute ( 550198 )
      Google branded bikes are going to be a collector's item. They need to repaint the bikes to say Microsoft so that nobody will want to be seen riding one.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Offer something for free, watch it get abused.

      Socialists, are you paying attention?

  • Who owns them? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by martinX ( 672498 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @04:52AM (#55878981)

    When everyone owns them, no-one owns them.

    • This is exactly it. The teenagers and bums who are stealing the bikes and keeping them or destroying them would never do that to their own bikes, but because it is essentially a free for all, they don't care.

      I do like the Shanghai concept of unlocking the bike using your cell phone. There is obviously still some room for fraud, but certainly if you unlock the bike with your own phone, you are not going to be an ass and damage or destroy the bike because Google can set the law after your for vandalism or t

  • Wait... do I become a 'Googler' if I google, or is that title reserved for employees?

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @05:35AM (#55879049)

    Those 1,100 Gbikes are actually 1,024 Gbikes after formatting. It's in the fine print.

  • They just need self-driving bicycles that can bring themselves back home.
  • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @05:57AM (#55879099) Homepage Journal

    We moved my office from downtown MTV to about a 22 minute walk from the caltrain station. What I quickly realized was that there were typically between 2-3 bikes just chilling out at the train station (about 3 miles from their main HQ, maybe more) so I and some coworkers would ride these bikes to our office, then dump them about a block from the office. The bikes always disappeared. Then around lunch we'd find another bike(s) and take them to the restaurant for lunch. In the evenings you can usually find one on your walk to the train station, and then just dump it as the station for someone else to use.
     
    It's sort of Mountain View's unofficial bike share, especially now that the city of Mountain View has formally left the bay area bike share/ford gobike system.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 07, 2018 @06:52AM (#55879211)

      So because the bikes were "just chilling out at the train station" you felt it was your right to take them? If somebody has a television just chilling in their house do you think it's okay to take that as well?

      It's not an "unofficial bike share," it's theft. The fact that you don't see anything wrong with taking other people's bikes is very worrying.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 07, 2018 @07:22AM (#55879321)

        Exactly How do you know those bikes wern't left at the train station for google employees to use to transit from the station to the office? Now they are without a bike and have to walk thanks to your selfishness.

        What google should have done is made their bikes just like the bikes commonly used for bike shares, with the electronic device on them to check out/in the bike. and track its location for recovery They could just use the employee ids to check out/in bikes and not charge like a fee. With google being the company that it is, you would think they would love to collect stats like that about which employees are using them and how frequently.

      • In my city, each property ends at the sidewalk. Then between the sidewalk and the street is a strip of city-owned land called (confusingly) the Right of Way. (Not to be confused with streets, which are not a right of way but are a place where you have a right of way. Which is not to be confused with having the right to use the way right this moment...)

        Anyways, if somebody places a TV on the grass between the sidewalk and the street, and there is not a moving van next to it, then it considered free. Before t

    • >It's sort of Mountain View's unofficial bike share, especially now that the city of Mountain View has formally left the bay area bike share/ford gobike system.

      No, it's become the local culture to steal bikes.

  • Should All Be Gone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @05:58AM (#55879101)

    What's happening to Google's 1,100 Gbikes? [snip]100 to 250 Google bikes go missing every week [snip] they eventually recover about two-thirds of the missing bikes

    So ~175 bikes go missing each week, of which ~120 are recovered. So ~55 go permanently missing each week. If there's 1,100 total, that means they'll all be gone after 5 months. Presumably they're being reordered to replace the ones that disappear.
    Also, hiring 30 contractors to track these down? Surely there's a more efficient way of doing this. Getting people to pay a nominal security deposit for use of the bikes would encourage people to return them ($1 would work surprisingly well, even for people making 6 figures. Psychology, bitches!). There are other, stick-based methods, but then more people will just dump them in creeks.

    • What about locks on these bikes?
      • Locks are a PITA for everyone. It would be better to put a mesh network on the cycles so that they can do GPS tracking without cellular. You could do it ultra-cheaply with something like ESP8266. Put a tracker on literally every bike, not just some of them. This would make it relatively easy to find offenders like the guy whose garage is full of them.

        It would be nice if we could all just get on a bike any time we needed one. Not me, of course, I live in the sticks. But people in cities.

        • It would be nice but in reality a lot of these bike sharing plans turn out to be a PITA to manage, causing enough nuisance for some cities to ban or curb bike sharing schemes.

          Some of these schemes have bikes with locks, and they are hardly an issue. Book online and open the lock with your phone. The organisation I work for has done this with all of their pool cars as well and it works great. The point is that locks force you to check out a bike before using it, making you responsible for disposing of it
          • by Kjella ( 173770 )

            It would be nice but in reality a lot of these bike sharing plans turn out to be a PITA to manage, causing enough nuisance for some cities to ban or curb bike sharing schemes. Some of these schemes have bikes with locks, and they are hardly an issue. Book online and open the lock with your phone. The organisation I work for has done this with all of their pool cars as well and it works great. The point is that locks force you to check out a bike before using it, making you responsible for disposing of it properly at a depot, not in a canal or wherever you feel like.

            Except that you then have to build a lot of depots or it becomes a chore to get to the nearest depot and from the destination depot to where you're really going. And if you're visiting somewhere you can't just borrow a bike, leave it outside and return it when you go home because it can get lost on your watch. I wonder now with the abundance of smartphones if it would be possible to skip the whole depot bit. Basically it comes with a bike lock, you can attach it to anything and using your phone you send a p

            • This "skipping the depot" bit already is here. There is Limebike and a bunch of people in the US that do what you describe.
    • There's a company here that rents bikes that are just left lying around and are unlocked with a smartphone app. Apparently Google is considering deploying the same sort of thing, but it adds a little bit of overhead for each legitimate user. It's not clear whether adding 30 seconds to each bike trip by an employee is more expensive than replacing 50 bikes a month.
  • Thieves steal bicycles.
    Film at 11.

    • Thieves steal bicycles. Film at 11.

      Single-speed cruiser bicycles painted bright yellow? I'm not seeing much resale value there. Even re-painted it would be rather obvious to anyone in that town to identify stolen merchandise.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Apparently,

    There are nine-million bicycles in Bing.

    That's a fact,

    It's a thing we can't deny,

  • The lesson keeps happening, but people keep failing to learn from it.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @08:04AM (#55879401) Homepage Journal

    They've discovered them as far away as Mexico, Alaska, and the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

    Hmm, sounds like a challenge.

  • by Subm ( 79417 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @09:37AM (#55879637)

    If only the company had some sort of general search function.

    • well, we'd need some kind of location system with transceiver in each bicycle. they could call it Google Peddler Seeker or something

  • Given a Google fleet of 1100 bikes, losing 200 per week is a blisteringly high rate of loss. And they can't be counting the ones that are are just borrowed overnight, like the example of the woman who works at Oracle and rides to the train station, because these would not be missed unless the count were to take place at the time the bike is not at Google. The articles describe many of these thefts as pure vindictiveness, like throwing them in the creek or stashing dozens of them in a garage because somehow,

  • Don't blame the shuttles. Unfortunately transportation in the valley is just terrible, and shuttles are part of a solution.

    Using public transportation to get from San Jose to Mountain View would take about two hours. And even walking would be at a comparable speed. There are a patchwork of uncoordinated services which require you to switch multiple busses, walk long periods (since the busses to not share nearby stops), and spend a lot of money.

    There is supposed to be VTA (valley transport "authority"), but

    • Maybe then these oh-so-clever tech companies should think twice about locating themselves in sprawling suburbs with awful infrastructure.

  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @10:56AM (#55879941) Homepage Journal

    At NASA we had "free range" bikes, which were just bikes that got abandoned or donated into common use, they were marked. I found out that even though the idea was that they should be randomly distributed to bike racks around the campus, the reality was they were usually piled up at one particular administrative building. See, administrative people tend to have meetings, lots of them, at various buildings on site. They would walk to those other buildings, then grab a free range bike back to their own building - EVERY TIME.

    There were bigger issues than that, if you brought your own personal bike to the space center - and many people didn't bother to lock them up because theft was quite rare inside the fence - the same asses who wouldn't just get their own bike - would take someones obviously personal bike too if it wasn't locked up. I personally had spokes broken on my bike because I did have it locked up and someone jerked on it in the rack hard enough to break spokes as the wheel rolled back. Even though out in public I run cable locks through both wheels at the space center I started locking up just the frame outside to prevent damage from a "don't care" type.

    I even saw free range bikes standing in the middle of parking lots. It was obvious that someone rode the bike all the way to their car and left it.

    I love the idea of a free-range, common use bike pool. I found that in reality people are assholes and don't care. Even in place like the space center where I know for a fact you can leave a brand-new Alienware laptop unattended for weeks at a time in full view in a not actually public but still accessible to many area with nothing holding it down but a power and Ethernet cable. I found that even in a place where people have shared common goals that a shared candy bowl will have one person pick out all their favorite stuff and hoard it in a personal lock box.

    Nope, we as human creatures can't be trusted to have a public use anything, unless it's got a self-enforcement or monitoring mechanism which sort of defeats the whole idea.

    • We now have the anecdote of a rocket scientist.

      Would a brain surgeon care to share his own anecdote?

    • Nope, we as human creatures can't be trusted to have a public use anything, unless it's got a self-enforcement or monitoring mechanism which sort of defeats the whole idea.

      I think the trouble is with all of these bike shares you're always going to have individuals who will try to push the limits of what's accepted. And if there's no consequence they'll keep pushing those limits those limits will become the new standard for what is accepted. And then people will then push the new standard as well.

      Collective goods are possible, but you need some sort of re-enforcement, either positive or negative, to keep people acting responsibly. Otherwise you're relying on people to act resp

      • You have no idea how many times I've given up on collective good arrangements even to as small of a scale as my own household. I'm seriously considering getting a safe when I get my next TV so I can lock up the remote control when I'm not home. I would love to share it, but it spends 90% of it's time misplaced.

        I've also considered drilling a hold through the casing somewhere and affixing a cable to it - since some public use things do work [gizmodo.com].

    • Even in place like the space center where I know for a fact you can leave a brand-new Alienware laptop unattended for weeks at a time in full view in a not actually public but still accessible to many area with nothing holding it down but a power and Ethernet cable.

      I guess at NASA you can't really count on gravity holding stuff down...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    From wikipedia:

    The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.

    Progressives just don't clue in on this.

    • "Individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest" is pure right-wing capitalism, and progressives do indeed know how this works. It's the radical free-market types that believe that the market will magically solve everything.

      "Shared resources" exist everywhere. Air is a shared resource. So is ground water, and most rivers, lakes, and oceans. Some things can be divided so they're no longer a shared resource, but they require shared resources and affect them. We can mark off

  • It turns out real people are assholes too.

  • by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @12:36PM (#55880371) Homepage

    640KBikes ought to be enough for any [campus] body.

  • "a reward for having to deal with the buses that carry Google employees." Some of these uneducated bums that are scattered around Mountain View, simply b/c they or their families moved there a few decades earlier, should be more appreciative of the high tech workers. If Google and other companies (including from 80s and 90s) didn't adopt the valley as "the valley" their houses won't be worth as much and they wouldn't be sitting on millions due to their "accidental" real estate investment. Also these bums do
  • ... Google maps?

  • by seoras ( 147590 ) on Sunday January 07, 2018 @04:13PM (#55881423)

    Quote:
    > Company transportation executive Jeral Poskey told the paper he once took action when he saw what appeared to be a homeless woman on a commandeered Google bike.
    > “If I could describe her, you would agree with me,” Poskey said. “She looked all panicked, and then she showed me her Google badge.”

    I did this when I went to the Bay for a job interview with Cisco in '94.
    My friend, who already worked for Cisco, took me down to see their new HQ being constructed at W.Tasman in Milpitas.
    We're both standing in the car park looking at the construction and this old homeless bum shuffles past and smiles at us.
    I turn to my friend and said "Site security seems very relaxed letting an old homeless bum like that wander around".
    My friend replied "That's John Morgridge [wikipedia.org] the CEO".

  • When an issue comes up next between the city and google I am not going be on the side of the city.

  • Just have more upright three-wheel bikes. A nice basket in the back for stuff.

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