Let’s roll: Danish startup gives bike hire in Spain a push

Firm offers technology that allows bicycle padlocks to be opened via a mobile phone app

A user tries out the new Donkey Republic system.
A user tries out the new Donkey Republic system.Santi Burgos
J. A. Aunión

Dark-colored bikes have started to colonize certain areas in the center of Madrid. They can be seen around the clock in Plaza de Pedro Zerolo in the Chueca district, in Plaza Mayor and outside the Reina Sofia art museum, home to Picasso's Guernica painting. This is thanks to a bike rental company called Trixi.com that uses the technology of Donkey Republic, a high-tech Danish start-up. Currently there are 50 such bikes, but the company hopes to get that figure up to 150 by spring.

The system works like this: Donkey provides intelligent padlocks that are linked to an online platform used to rent out the bike. Trixi.com – or whichever company chooses to work with Donkey – only needs to install the locks on their bikes and place them in the street.

Anything that encourages the use of bikes is good Pablo Muñoz, Bike Spain Tours

When people want to rent a bike, they can automatically see where bikes are available using the Donkey app. They can then choose the most convenient location, pay online and pick the bike up at any time. The padlock on the bike they choose also opens via the app, and once the rental period is over, the bike has to be returned to its original location.

The bikes in pollution-hit Madrid are priced from €7.50 for two hours to €15 a day, with Donkey keeping 20% of profits and 80% going to the local bike company.

Individuals can also sign up to rent out their bikes – a cost of €80 is incurred for a kit that includes the padlock and stickers – but in most cases the partnership is between Donkey and small bike hire businesses in the target city. “This is not the equivalent of Airbnb for bikes,” says a spokesperson.

Having received an injection of €1.5 million in capital from the Danish Growth Fund, Donkey is expanding fast and now offers its services in 20 major cities including Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London and Budapest, boasting 20,000 registered users. In Spain, Donkey is up and running in Barcelona, Málaga, Benalmádena in Málaga province and Madrid, where it was introduced in December.

The padlocks of the hire bicycles are opened using the mobile app

“Anything that encourages the use of bikes is good,” says Pablo Muñoz from the bike rental company Bike Spain Tours. “I think it's positive for everyone.” Meanwhile, a member of the Madrid Probici (Pro-bike) Association says, “The only thing that could pose a problem is that they occupy public space [when parked].”

In this respect, Esteban Benito, spokesperson for the coordinating body of downtown Madrid’s neighborhood associations, says: “Although the initiative offers clean transportation, it occupies parking space that should be available to people, not companies.”

He adds: “Private profit is being made at the citizen’s expense. We would say yes to the initiative providing it is fiscally sound – there is a lot of fraud connected to the ‘new economy.’”

A spokesperson from Donkey explains that while they pay their taxes in Denmark, the local company is responsible for paying them in Spain. This, they say, is why they provide tax information on each transaction. As far as concerns over public space go, they make the point that the bikes should only be parked in spaces reserved for two-wheeled vehicles.

The bikes use parking space that should be available to people, not companies Esteban Benito, spokesperson for central Madrid’s neighborhood associations

All that remains to be seen is how the public will respond to the scheme. The Danes claim Donkey has advantages over public rental schemes, despite the fact that the latter are cheaper and more widespread: Madrid’s Bicimad, for example, has almost 2,500 electric bikes and hiring one costs just €1.9 for registered users and €6 for the occasional rider. But Donkey notes that their bikes do not need stations and that the model can vary to accommodate children’s seats and other accessories.

In fact, Donkey and Bicimad are not in direct competition. Bicimad is better for short journeys that take the rider from A to B. Donkey, on the other hand, is designed for longer periods and for the same departure and end point. It is a bike rental minus the shop, and perhaps slightly cheaper because of it.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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