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Gamification and service quality in bike sharing: an empirical study in Italy

Maria Giovina Pasca, Roberta Guglielmetti Mugion, Martina Toni, Laura Di Pietro and Maria Francesca Renzi from the Department of Business Studies, Roma Tre University, Rome, Italy, published an article on Emerald Publishing Limited in 2021 regarding gamification and the service quality in bike sharing. The article provides an up to date review on this issue. Here are some of the key issues.

In the past years, many governments have encouraged citizens to use efficient and sustainable means of transportation as well as electric vehicles or sharing mobility services for reducing environmental pollution. The sharing economy created a ’potential new pathway to sustainability. The safety, reliability and accessibility of new sustainable means of transportation have replaced the need to own a private vehicle

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, people rediscovered bikes through being obliged to abandon their cars.

Several mobile applications (apps) were created that even embedded gamification, namely some games mechanics, applied in non-gaming contexts, able to create and increase user engagement and to manage users’ behavior.

In Italy, Bike sharing (BS) companies have introduced comfortable and sustainable means, pursuing the following objectives: decreasing environmental pollution and road congestion, saving costs, achieving positive effects on the physical well-being of an individual and providing service quality.

BS operators encourage users to use helmets, comply with the Highway Code and use the bikes responsibly. Moreover, to reinforce these rules, BS companies have introduced game mechanics that reward customers who behave responsibly. The most common BS game mechanism used in the mobility sector is a “points system”.

In order to improve service quality, users receive points by reporting broken or badly parked bikes and parking in defined areas (preferred locations). Users lose points by parking in areas not subject to service coverage, leaving padlocks open, losing bikes, violating traffic codes or using bikes illegally. The points collected also generate various rewards: hedonic (discounts for rides or in supermarkets) and utilitarian (priority support).

The study points out that the BS systems can be divided in two categories: (1) docked BS station (a bike picked up from and returned to any station or kiosk) and (2) dock-less BS (a bike picked up and returned anywhere). Many countries have reported the failure of dock-less BS services, and several studies have highlighted the reasons of failure: unsustainable business model, oversized fleets and vandalism

There have been four generations of BS. The first generation, or “white bikes”, started in 1965 in Amsterdam, providing free bikes for public use. The second created “coin– deposit systems” to avoid acts of vandalism and theft, installing docking stations to lock and return bikes and ultimately providing a more secure and reliable system.

The third incorporated “advanced technologies for bicycle reservations, pickup, drop-off, and information tracking”: mobile apps or smartcards used for pick-up and drop-off. GPS tracking and provision of users’ personal information provide added security, enabling operators to ensure the supply of bikes in docking stations and users to check bike-availability.

The fourth has created a multimodal system: programs have improved bike distribution, installation of powering stations and tracking. Another feature of these systems is integration with public transport, and several studies have shown that BS increases public transport travel.

The research emphasizes that BS usage provides several benefits, such as flexible mobility, emission reduction, financial savings, reduced congestion and fuel use, increased health benefits, environmental awareness and support for multimodal transport connections with public transport.

Nevertheless, BS programs face several obstacles. In some cities, development is hampered by topography and climate. In Australia, the UK and North America, safety is the main obstacle. Others include limited bike infrastructure, bike redistribution, theft and vandalism. The allocation position, coverage area and allocation method are crucial aspects that suppliers must consider in providing an efficient, quality service.

3. Methodology

The researchers stress that the present study is grounded on an empirical study developed on Italian BS users. It adopted a mixed method approach that integrates qualitative and quantitative methods to pursuit the two-fold aim:

(1) to learn about the state of the art of BS services in Italy.

(2) to understand users’ behavior related to BS services and to investigate the impact of gamification mechanics on service quality and loyalty.

The combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies allows the adoption of multiple worldviews to investigate a specific phenomenon, providing more consistent answers to complex research questions


The study finds that the BS services in Italy increased. Ten municipalities are registered with free-floating BS services (19,500 bikes), and the number of station-based electric bikes continues to grow. The service is mainly widespread in northern Italy. In particular, free-floating services are widespread in the northern regions, while in the southern regions, Italy ranked first in Europe with 39,500 bikes shared in 265 municipalities. BS in Italy was particularly active in the North, where 64% of cities offered at least one BS service.

Unfortunately, in several Italian cities, the scarce use of bikes is caused by the lack of infrastructure. Cycle paths are short and disconnected, often overlooking dangerous roads and are not maintained, making it dangerous and uncomfortable to use bikes in the cities.

5. Discussion and findings

The results show that “App perception” is generated by user perceptions of the mobile app by assessing ease of use, efficiency and the security of personal information and payments.

The findings support the crucial role of gamification mechanics in improving “Service quality” and user “Loyalty”. Their results show that “App perception” has a strong influence on “Gamification”. The construct “Gamification” directly influences “Service quality”. “Loyalty” to use BS is directly influenced by “Gamification”, with a weaker influence of “Service quality”

The authors stress that their model demonstrates the pivotal role of gamification in influencing “Service quality”. The use of gamification, in the context of BS, encourages users to park in specific areas and report any breakdowns or damage. Gamification mechanics inform BS companies, allowing them to tackle vandalism and improve vehicle maintenance. However, the results indicate that the chief obstacles to BS loyalty are distribution, coverage, convenience and bike accessibility and maintenance of bikes. BS companies utilize gamification affordances

The study underlines that gamification can be used as a strategic tool to explore the challenges and opportunities brought by the mobility sector.

For business, gamification is a tool to improve user engagement and develop customer loyalty. For BS companies specifically, it allows them to improve efficiency. Through gamification mechanics, users are driven to use the service, and at the same time, operators can educate users on where to park, constantly improving the quality of the service.

Governments should promote the spread of BS by removing obstacles and promoting integration between shared mobility services. Increasing mobility choices is necessary in order to reduce congestion, improve air quality and integrate various means of transport.

Policymakers should promote programs and mobile apps that use gamification mechanics to encourage bike use. Indeed, gamification integrates innovation and a sustainable perspective. In this way, for policymakers, gamification increases sustainable mobility by encouraging users through rewards to bike-share and creating a direct dialog with service providers.

Governments must ensure easy access to local mobility services, through a holistic approach, to efficiently exploit existing means of transport and by promoting sustainable means of transportation.

Existing applications, where game mechanics are installed, must use persuasive strategies tailored to the needs of individual users, not a “one size fits all” approach. Our study highlighted that gamification is crucial for changing transport habits, generating awareness of environmental issues by educating and raising awareness among citizens. However, the effective implementation of gamification depends on the responsibility of different stakeholders (community, service providers, digital platform providers and governments).

The use of these mechanics helps to explore citizens’ needs by highlighting their travel habits. The information collected, through the use of mobile applications, can be used by governments and private mobility companies as ICT collect useful data to improve urban strategies and infrastructures in order to implement a digital transition that favors the achievement of the Agenda 2030 goals.


The research concludes that the BS is a solution for intermodal transport, but there are several barriers to uptake, namely traffic and archaeological or architectural barriers affecting bike path expansion. The diffusion of the service is hindered by theft and vandalism and a lack of infrastructure and coverage in peripheral areas.

The results show that “service quality” and “gamification” impact “loyalty” in using BS services. Gamification creates user engagement and develops customer loyalty, promoting correct behaviors.

According to the study, the use of gamification affordances draws users to the service. “Gamification” mechanics directly improve “Service quality”. In a BS context, these tools directly influence perceptions of service quality, encouraging correct behaviors such as parking in designated areas, reporting damaged bikes and providing information to BS companies to tackle vandalism and improve vehicle maintenance.

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