China on way back to being bicycle superpower
Shared bikes have solved problems and created some of their own
WATARU KODAKA, Nikkei staff writer
SHANGHAI -- Roads in China used to be filled with bicycles. Then came motorization. And serious air pollution. And traffic snarls.
The noxious side effects, in turn, seem to have made room for shared bikes.
There's lots to like. China's newfound respect for emission-free commuting is good for riders' health. The bikes make it easy to pedal around traffic jams. They even seem to be pushing China back to bicycle powerhouse status again.
Brightly painted shared bikes are gaining popularity in China. The reasons are many: They can be dropped off just about anywhere; users don't have to worry about them being stolen; they are good for health and do not pollute the skies.
In mid-June, a 25-year-old woman was riding a flashy orange-colored bike through the rain. She was on her way to a restaurant for lunch in Shanghai's business district.
The office worker was using a bike-share service operated by Chinese startup Mobike, which launched in spring 2016. The venture has already started operating in the U.K. and other countries. It plans to launch the service in Japan's Fukuoka and Sapporo soon.
Using Mobike is pretty simple. The bikes have QR codes that can be scanned with a smartphone app. If a rider locks the bike manually after arriving at his or her destination, the usage fee will be automatically charged.
Fees are reasonable -- 1 yuan (15 cents) per 30 minutes. Then there is the added convenience of being able to leave a bike just about anywhere.
Mobike has become a huge hit and now has a fleet of 5 million bikes across China. In Shanghai alone, there are100,000 of shared bikes.
Yes, there are competitors. Ofo has 6 million yellow-framed bikes.
This advertisement for bike-share startup ofo was posted in a subway station. Although all of China's bike-share companies are in the red, they are being flooded with venture capital, thanks to government measures to encourage entrepreneurship.
But like motorization before them, shared bikes have brought a host of their own problems. Some abandoned bikes have obstructed traffic, for instance. As a result, Shanghai and other municipalities are towing away these bikes.
When companies reclaim their towed bikes, they have to pay a fee, the amount of which depends on how long a municipality has stored it.
The industry itself is taking note of the problems. On Junly 5, it released a set of standards.
Bad-mannered users have given rise to so-called "bicycle hunters," who take photos of vandalized bikes, then post the photos on social networks with calls for better behavior. The service operators then send employees to collect the bikes.
Bicycle associations in Shanghai and Tianjin drafted the regulations, and more than 10 bike-share companies, including Mobike and ofo, have signed on. The regulations define shared bicycles as those "designed for single daily traffic, using the internet leasing method," and specify a service life of three years. However, operators will be allowed to judge whether to reuse scrap parts.
The standards call on companies to hire at least one maintenance employee for every 200 bikes. They also cover the management of deposits, handling of customer complaints and compensation for users.
They will take effect on Oct. 1.