About three decades ago, China was known as the “Bicycle Kingdom”. But the two-wheeled mode （方式） of transport’s popularity began to fade, with many bikes soon replaced by their fuel-powered competitors.
But recent months have seen a revival of the humble bike across China, with an increasing number of people choosing cycling instead of driving to schools, to workplaces or to do sightseeing. The introduction of bike-sharing schemes, pioneered by start-ups like Ofo and Mobike, has brought the trend to a new level.
According to data compiled by iResearch Consulting Group, the first week of this year saw 5.85 million active users of Mobike while Ofo had 1.4 million active users.
People can unlock the shared bikes by simply using their smartphone. The bikes are equipped with GPS and can be left anywhere in public for the next user. They’re popular among many Chinese people as they provide an effective solution to the “last mile” problem, which refers to the final leg of a person’s journey.
“In places where the subway doesn’t extend, where it’s difficult to change from one kind of transport to another, it’s so easy to get where you want to go with Mobike,” Hu Hong, 29, told AFP. She pedals to her Shanghai real-estate job.
However, the schemes have also led to problems such as illegal parking, vandalism and theft.
Last month, two nurses in Beijing were placed under administrative detention for five days for putting locks on two shared bikes.
And in December, a man who stole a shared bike was sentenced to a 3-month detention with a 3-month probation, and fined 1,000 yuan by the Shanghai Minhang People’s Court.
“Bike-sharing is a greener method of transportation and provides a user-friendly experience,” said Liu Xiaoming, vice-minister of transport. “But it’s a combination of online and offline business. Operators are usually strong in online services, but lack offline business experience, which causes problems.”
In fact, these problems are also shared by bike-sharing schemes abroad. Launched in 2007, Vélib is a large-scale public bike sharing system in Paris. At its early stage of operation, it also suffered from problems of vandalism or theft.
By Oct 2009, a large number of Vélib’s initial bikes had to be replaced due to vandalism or theft, according to The New York Times. Bikes were found hanging from lampposts or thrown into the Seine River.
To deal with these problems, the company came up with the idea of encouraging people to return the bikes to stations by rewarding free time for their next rides.
Now, Chinese service operators are also trying to address these problems. For example, Mobike sets a 100-point credit score for each user, with points taken in the case of bad behavior. Once a score drops below 80, bike rental is increased to 100 yuan per 30 minutes, up from 0.5-1 yuan.