Taken for a ride

New bike-sharing apps face vandalism problem

Mobike w

China had 500 million bikes in 1987 and the numbers are growing again

On-demand bicycle rental services, such as Mobike and Ofo (see WiC339) are the latest manifestation of the “sharing economy” in China. The new industry is being encouraged by many local governments as an alternative way to combat air pollution. But unfortunately, a generation of only-children are discovering that many of their counterparts never learned to share.

One recent entrant to the bikelending industry called Kala has had to suspend its services after 75% of its fleet went missing and its investors decided to withdraw. This has left Kala with the remaining bikes that it can no longer afford to operate – and desperately searching for new backers.

Meanwhile, netizens have been revelling in recording the bizarre abuse that many “shared bikes” have endured. Some situations are simply curious, such as bikes “parked” high-up in trees, or inside rubbish bins, or blocking access on roads.

Others are wantonly destructive, like the bikes hurled into rivers or with their tyres slashed.

There are more malign activities too. Newspapers report some bikes have been plastered with false QR codes which, rather than accessing the bike company’s app and unlocking the bike, instead steal money from the scanner’s Tenpay or Alipay accounts (see WiC356).

Much more low-tech examples of fraud are the stories of unofficial ‘parking attendants’ who lock up the rental bikes and then charge would-be users an additional fee to release them.

A further series of online photos showcased bikes with their saddles removed and others that had been secured with personal locks. Presumably the former technique is likewise a means of ensuring the bike is available the next time the ‘seat thief’ wants to use it.

But amidst the unscrupulous behaviour there is also a story of good-natured vigilantism (and of course, the majority of bike rentals pass off without incident).

In January Sixth Tone reported on several groups of “bike hunters” operating across China’s cities. These unsolicited volunteers prowl the streets looking for shared bikes that have been improperly parked, damaged, or left in a way that prevents others from using them. They then document the misdemeanour, report it to the company that owns the bike and then, if possible, return the bike to a suitable location.

One hunter, Shanghai-based Zhuang, told Sixth Tone for him it was like a game. “Once you play the game, you get addicted… It’s even better than Pokemon Go, because it’s real,” he remarked.

The future of the bike rental industry will likely depend more on local bureaucrats than the charitable work of a few citizens. Already some municipalities have drafted regulations for the sector formalising, amongst other things, designated and appropriate parking spaces for the hire bikes.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.