Bureaucracy on Wheels: Navigating the Perils of Technological Convenience

Once upon a quintessentially ordinary Sunday in the vibrant heart of London, with a sky so cerulean it mirrored the innocence of my uneventful day, I made the fateful decision that led to an adventure more paradoxical than the city itself. The routine act of renting a Santander e-bike—a choice that at the time appeared greener, healthier, more in sync with my football hobby, and unarguably more scenic than taking the Tube—ended up becoming an unfolding mystery, full of twists that even Arthur Conan Doyle would have been proud of.

My Santander e-bike journey commenced on a sun-dappled morning, amidst the hustle and bustle of London’s urban wilderness. The excitement of swerving through the busy streets, breezing past the trademark red buses, and the soothing charm of a morning ride was too tempting to resist. The experience was no less than a symphony of sights, sounds, and smells—a dance with the city’s heart, set to the rhythm of my e-bike pedals.

The football match that day, though an ordinary Sunday activity, felt more refreshing. Perhaps it was the crisp air from the bike ride, the novelty of the eco-friendly travel, or maybe just London’s magic seeping into my usual routine. Post-match, with a feeling of victorious exhaustion, I docked the bike, ensured it was securely locked, and went home, my heart lighter and my wallet thinner by £3.30.

That lightness, however, was short-lived. The next day brought with it a pending charge of a startling £77.55, a figure far from the realm of expectation. The shock was as swift as a chilly gust of London rain, the absurdity as potent as a droll English comedy. With no plausible explanation, I called my bank, only to be met with the bureaucratic shrug of ‘waiting until the money has been debited’. The next call was to TFL Customers Service, a conversation that started as a quest for answers and transformed into a bewildering tale of undocked bikes, relentless charges, and the unraveling of a supposedly infallible system.

Sharif, A (2023), Santander Docking, London.

A certain ‘Mike’ at TFL narrated the tale of the undocked bike—an errant metal steed that had decided to stay astray, triggering a daily £50 charge up to a whopping £300. There were no trackers to trace its whereabouts, only the word of the customer and a system that supposedly never erred. Despite my certainty of docking the bike, the system deemed otherwise, and the bike was on an apparent adventure of its own, painting me as an unintentional outlaw in this bizarre, bureaucratic drama.

The scene of the ‘crime’ was revisited, the docking station scrutinized for signs of the missing bike, yet it was nowhere to be found. The saga was no longer a solitary one, as fellow victims surfaced with their stories, painting a grim picture of what was looking less like a mishap and more like a systemic failure or worse—a scam.

Another call to TFL brought me face-to-face with ‘James’, a customer support representative who insisted that their system was infallible. Yet, here I was, alongside numerous others, bearing the brunt of a flawed technology. The disagreement was as stalemated as the Sherlock Holmes vs. Moriarty duel—both sides convinced of their stance, the truth seemingly unreachable.

TripAdvisor, (2023), Reviews on Santander E-Bike App, London.

Finally, amidst the flurry of calls and charges, a glaring truth emerged—Santander’s e-bikes (TFL) lacked both an insurance scheme and GPS tracking. These crucial elements were sacrificed for a cost-efficient business model that, unfortunately, seemed to rest on the shoulders of its eco-friendly customers. The small print, often dismissed, harboured the silent charge of £300 and the subtle responsibility of a stolen bike, creating an undeniable imbalance in this shared bike scheme.

A screenshot of an Email from TFL, (2023)

In the end, my adventure with Santander e-bikes was a wake-up call to the latent patriarchal structures and the systemic exploitation lurking beneath the polished surface of modernity. It is a tale that is an uncomfortable reminder of how a seemingly simple decision can drag one into a whirlpool of issues, and how, in a city as advanced and vibrant as London, one can feel strikingly powerless, lost in the rigid machinations of bureaucracy.

The story ends in a confusing mix-up between a possible trick and a simple mistake, showing a system with big problems. It is scary to think that the same group we trust to keep us safe could put us at risk, all because of a bike that wasn’t appropriately returned.

In the world of digital cities and online communities, we are all part of a big, complex network. A bike left at the wrong place becomes more than just a bike—it turns into a piece of data, a dot on a map in this digital world.

This bike mix-up is a real-life lesson about the problems that can come from too much convenience. It highlights how important it is for new technological solutions to be clear and responsible in our growing digital world. As we move through digital cities, let us remember this: every ride might have a few bumps. But we can learn from them and make the road ahead a bit smoother.

The Digital City and Platform Capitalism: A Closer Look at Airbnb

During my time as an Airbnb host, I’ve had the pleasure of opening my home to a diverse range of guests, from free-spirited backpackers to diligent business travelers. Yet, beneath these delightful encounters lies a complex interaction between platform capitalism (Woodcock, 2021) and the notion of the digital city.

Airbnb, a prominent figure in the sharing economy, has revolutionized the way homeowners can generate supplementary income by renting out their properties. This groundbreaking platform exemplifies the broader trend of platform capitalism, which harnesses digital networks to extract value from users’ activities.

While engaging in the sharing economy can be gratifying for both hosts and guests, it is crucial to contemplate the broader implications of platform capitalism on the digital city. Swift urbanization and the growing integration of digital technologies have reshaped our lives and work. Nonetheless, the emergence of platforms such as Airbnb has also given rise to challenges like escalating housing prices and the displacement of local communities (Gurran and Shrestha, 2021).

As we delve into platform capitalism and traverse the digital city, we must adopt a more thoughtful approach to guarantee a balanced and sustainable future for all stakeholders. Seizing the opportunities provided by platforms like Airbnb demands that we weigh the potential consequences and collaborate to tackle the associated challenges.

The secret to realizing a sustainable digital city is nurturing transparency and cooperation among all parties involved, encompassing hosts, guests, platform operators, and policymakers (Gurran and Shrestha, 2021). By actively partaking in policy-making, implementing regulations, and heightening awareness about the implications of platform capitalism, we can strive toward a more equitable and democratic digital future.

My experience as Airbnb host and studying smart cities has opened my eyes to the opportunities and challenges of platform capitalism and the digital city. and as we continue to embrace the sharing economy, it’s crucial to maintain a balance between benefits and responsibilities.

Week 3 – The Loss of Social Capital in Smart Cities: A Call for Balance

In the age of smart cities and ever-increasing technological advancements, we often find ourselves marveling at the convenience and efficiency of our urban environments “We are reorganizing our lives and our communities around mass mobile communications” (Townsend; p.2). However, as we embrace the wonders of technology, it is crucial to reflect on the potential loss of human contact and the risk of social isolation in these smart cities (Townsend, 2013). The erosion of social capital, as Miller (2011) suggests, could be an unintended consequence of the digital world we are building.

Imagine strolling through the streets of a smart city. You’re surrounded by high-tech infrastructure, state-of-the-art public transport systems, and countless digital devices that aim to make life simpler. While these innovations offer undeniable benefits, they also raise questions about our increasingly detached human interactions. Are we sacrificing genuine connections with our neighbors, friends, and even strangers for the sake of technological progress?

Townsend (2013) highlights the potential risks of social isolation in smart cities, where human contact is replaced by digital interfaces and algorithms. In this context, people may find themselves more connected to their devices than to each other, which could lead to a decline in social capital. Miller (2011) further elaborates on this issue, emphasizing that the key elements of digital culture may undermine the fundamental human connections that constitute the essence of our social well-being.

As we continue to develop smart cities and embrace the digital world, it is crucial to strike a balance between leveraging the benefits of technology and preserving our social capital. Townsend (2013) suggests that urban planners and policymakers should prioritize human connections when designing smart cities, ensuring that digital technologies enhance, rather than replace, The organization ‘Playable City,’ as discussed in ‘The Compass’ podcast, could potentially serve as one solution to address this issue.

Let’s embrace the future while keeping the importance of human connections at the forefront of our minds. After all, the genuine bonds we form with one another are irreplaceable and cannot be replicated by even the most sophisticated algorithms. Maintaining this perspective will help us create a balance that preserves the essence of our humanity amidst rapid technological advancements.


Glover, F. (2019) ‘The Smart City: Seoul, South Korea, [The Compass], 10 April 2019. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csz41r (Accessed: 21 March 2023)

Miller, V. (2011) Understanding Digital Culture. In: Miller, V. Key Elements of Digital Media. Sage: pp 12-21

Townsend, A. (2013). Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia. W.W. Norton & Company

Week 4 – Exploring the Social Transformations of Digital and Smart Cities

In exploring how smart cities enhance and compromise community participation and sustainability, Mosco (2019) explains the technology-driven perspective as a collection of advanced technologies, such as sensors, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence, that are used to optimize the efficiency of urban systems and services.

This approach emphasizes the benefits of using technology to improve resource management, reduce traffic congestion, and enhance public safety. but it may also compromise community and participation by focusing on efficiency over social and cultural values (Sadowski, J, 2017), (Mosco, 2019).

In 2017 Google’s Sidewalk Labs proposed the Quayside project in Toronto, which aimed to create a smart city using a range of technologies such as autonomous vehicles, sensors, and energy-efficient buildings. The project claimed to enhance sustainability by reducing carbon emissions and waste while improving community participation by offering open data and public consultation. However, “it raises significant policy issues” (Mosco 2019, P.85), concerns were raised about data privacy and governance, as well as the potential for exclusion of marginalized communities (Cecco, 2019).

“Panelists felt that [the Sidewalk Labs master plan] did not appear to put the citizen at the centre of the design process for digital innovations, as was promised in the beginning and is necessary for legitimacy.” Digital Strategy Advisory Panel, Waterfront Toronto

Another perspective Mosco (2019) discussed is the citizen-centered perspective which views digital smart cities as platforms for citizen participation and engagement in urban governance. This approach highlights the importance of involving citizens in decision-making processes and providing them with access to information and resources to co-create their urban environment.

The current ‘smart city’ model is made up of a variety of advanced technologies such as sensors, data collection systems, real-time analytics, connected devices, algorithmic processes, and centralized command centers. These technologies work together to create a city that is capable of processing and analyzing large amounts of data in real-time to optimize its services and systems “They are fundamentally about infrastructural and civic applications. They are the kind of systems that constitute the techno-political ordering of society” (Sadowski, J 2017, P.7).

The readings and current ‘smart cities’ projects, serve as a strong reminder that technology alone is not the ultimate solution to the challenges of urban living. Such initiatives need to be well-defined, accessible, and transparent to the general public. They must be founded upon civic participation and align with sound planning principles. Additionally, policies targeting government inefficiencies and social inequalities should accompany these smart technologies. Otherwise, these technologies could end up magnifying urban problems as readily as they can solve them.


  • Sadowski, J (2017) ‘Access denied: Snapshots of exclusion and enforcement in the smart city’ in Shaw, J and Graham, M. ed. Our Digital rights to the city, pp 6-11.
  • Cecco, L. (2019). ‘Irrelevant: report pours scorn over Google’s ideas for Toronto smart city’, The Guardian, <https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/sep/11/irrelevant-panel-pours-scorn-over-googles-ideas-for-toronto-smart-city>, accessed 1 March 2023.
  • Mosco, V. (2019) The Smart City in a Digital World. Emerald Publishing Limited. doi: 10.1108/9781787691353. [chapter 3: City of technology: where the streets are paved with data]