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Imagine if an airline charged you more because you listen to loud music, or a coffee shop hiked the price of your latte because you never say thanks to the barista. A bike-share startup is trying something similar, applying a higher fee to riders it deems to have a bad score within its ratings system.

Mobike, which has dockless bikes in 200 cities around the world, this week started bumping up fees for two groups of users. Those with a “fair” score have to pay double, while those with a “poor” rating will have to pay multiple times more.

A Mobike spokesperson briefed Tech in Asia on the changes, but declined to comment on record.

In China, Mobike’s home nation, the fee for its worst riders is US$15 for a 30-minute session – 100 times higher than normal, reports Technode.

Riders badged “good” (the starting point for new Mobike users) or “excellent” are charged the usual fee. The startup’s “excellent” customers may get incentives or bonuses in future, Tech in Asia has learned.

Mobike introduced a rider score some time ago, but it only began meting out variable fees as punishments this week. The startup’s homepage outlines the kinds of misdeeds that will cause a user’s score to drop:

  • Riding bikes in an unsafe manner and ignoring traffic rules
  • Parking bikes in off-limits areas, such as residential properties, basements, building lobbies and active bike lanes
  • Obstructing other people
  • Vandalizing bikes, such as installing personal locks or removing the seat
  • Other civil violations while using the bikes

Snitches get riches

The data-driven system, however, relies on a very analog practice: civic-minded folks reporting naughty riders.

“I’m curious how they expect user reporting alone to cover all of these infractions,” says Shazeda Ahmed, a Berkeley PhD student who specializes in China internet policy and social scoring systems. “Aside from a subsequent rider reporting a bike as damaged, locked, or placed in an off-limits location, how can users monitor whether others are riding in an ‘unsafe manner and ignoring traffic rules’ or ‘obstructing other people’?”

In this system, snitches get riches: conscientious Mobike users can boost their own scores by reporting infractions. But the app has an appeals process for those hit with penalties but want to contest the charges.

Mobikers who get a score below 100 on the 1,000-point scale will be suspended from the service.

Sharing isn’t caring

Along with archrival Ofo, which also hails from China, Mobike is locked in a fierce battle to be the largest in a new wave of dockless bike-share apps. Uber earlier this year got in on the two-wheeler act with its Uber Bike pilot program, which is limited to San Francisco for now.

Mobike’s punishments seem to be aimed at the kind of antisocial behavior that put the dockless bike companies in trouble with authorities around the world – like with this lousy parker in Manchester, England.

Mobike vandal

Photo credit: Confidentials

For example, the Chinese firm earlier this month vowed to take action in Dallas, Texas, amid complaints and municipal pressure over how riders parked the orange-and-silver bicycles.

Mobike’s evaluation of its riders has echoes of the so-called “citizen score” system that Alibaba, China’s online shopping titan, has been building for years within its shopping and payment apps. People with a good score get preferential rates on loans and exemptions from having to place a deposit for some services. The social credit apparatus has been described by some critics as Orwellian, as it may take into account what people share on their social media profiles.

“Scoring systems in China are meant to nudge citizens to change their behavior when they realize their peers are more highly ranked than they are, making scores more interpersonal than personal” Ahmed tells Tech in Asia. She feels it’s not dissimilar to many Americans knowing where they fit in on the FICO scale.

Ahmed adds, “In the Mobike case, among others, I wonder how effective this approach to scoring ultimately is if people can turn to a competitor or simply not care about scores that affect the prices of non-essential goods and services.”

This post Bike-share startup charges bad riders more appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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