Bike sharing needs better management

By Xie Hui Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/9 20:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Mobike, one of China's largest bike-sharing companies, launched its service in Manchester, England on June 29. So far, it has tried to take a community-oriented approach for its 100th city launch globally and its first European arrival. Ofo, a rival company of Mobike in China, has ramped up efforts to expand its service overseas and is expected to launch its service in 20 countries and regions by the end of this year.

In fact, the concept of bike-sharing emerged in Europe. The first bike-sharing system was launched in the Netherlands in 1967. Users were free to use any of a pool of bicycles painted white. In the 1990s, Denmark launched bike-sharing programs in several cities and other countries followed suit. However, most shared bikes in Europe and the US are still parked at designated docking stations. The past 10 years have witnessed the boom of the bike-sharing economy in China, from the introduction of foreign bike-sharing systems to domestic mobile app-based "dockless" bike-sharing programs.

Now, users in China can ride a shared bike just by scanning its QR code with a phone, and drop it off anywhere without looking for docking stations. China's bike-sharing programs have spearheaded a new wave in the bike-sharing industry around the world.

In her Internet Trends report for 2017 at the Code Conference in California, Internet guru and Kleiner Perkins investor Mary Meeker said that from the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2017, trip volume of shared cars and bikes in China led the globe, with over 10 billion completed trips of shared vehicles every year, accounting for 67 percent of the global sharing market. The Wall Street Journal reported that smartphone-based bike-sharing schemes were first developed in China, and US tech firms are beginning to emulate them.

China's bike-sharing programs are strongly supported by the rapid growth of the Internet and IoT (Internet of Things) networks. A shared bike equipped with a GPS, smart-lock and battery system, as well as big data analysis are all backed by new technology that represents Chinese innovation and entrepreneurship. Bike-sharing systems will enjoy a bright future as they have solved the "last kilometer" commuting headache city residents are facing, and they are environmentally friendly.

However, China's bike-sharing companies have found that success breeds its own set of challenges, such as how to manage the parking of shared bikes. In addition, as bike-sharing enterprises are mushrooming in China and beefing up efforts to grasp the biggest market share, management models and customer service lag far behind the lightning-fast growth. Major cities are grappling with chaotically parked masses of shared bikes. Besides, bike-sharing programs are also mired in some thorny problems like vandalism, theft and illegal parking. A bike-sharing company has recently launched its service in the US, but met with difficulty because of its unfamiliarity with local parking regulations. 

Another aspect is the security of users' deposits. According to a 2016 China bike-sharing market research report by BigData-Research, the number of users of shared bikes in China stood at 18.86 million at the end of 2016 and will rise to 50 million by the end of 2017. A large user base will bring an enormous amount of security deposits to the capital market. Therefore, how to protect users' deposits requires further consideration.

Apart from that, protecting users' personal information also deserves close attention. The burgeoning bike-sharing industry is buttressed by Internet technology, which also means bike-sharing companies have access to users' personal information because they have to register before using bikes. In this regard, morality and well-secured information systems are needed to protect users' privacy. How to maintain a price advantage and invest heavily to ensure technical security also matters to bike-sharing companies.

The bike-sharing industry is undergoing tremendous growth, following the trends of the sharing economy and green transportation. China's bike-sharing programs, representing the new spirit of "intelligent manufacturing in China," are making inroads into the global market, ranging from Singapore to Silicon Valley in the US. How far China's bike-sharing schemes will go depends on companies' better management.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies.

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