“Hong Kong’s First Bike Shares Get Thrown in River.”
“Sydney councils worried about dockless share bikes being ‘strewn’ across their suburbs.”
“Yellow, Submarined. Scores of oBikes Fished Out of Melbourne River.
When those first red and yellow bikes started showing up on Shanghai’s streets, I was very supportive of their potential to create positive change. In a place where Maseratis replaced walking, and riding on two wheels was considered the lowest form of transportation, shared bikes got people up and moving again. They became the cool thing to do. Gangs of cyclists would whiz past you, laughing and enjoying their time. The chirps and beeps of smartphones opening locks were a welcome respite from jackhammers and horns.
What once was a very public good has quickly turned into a public nuisance.
It’s no longer just red and yellow bikes dotting the streets. Now, bikes in every color of the rainbow litter sidewalks and block subway exits. By June this year, Shanghai had nearly 500,000 shared bikes from one of over 40 companies. In China overall there are close to 10 million bikes. That’s 1 bike for every 16 people. No matter how big China’s cities may be, there is still not enough room to park them all. This has led to bike graveyards popping up in all manner of places. To get a sense of the scale, check out some of the pictures below.
This idea of dock-less bikes, which the founder of Mobike is so proud of inventing, has led to a public safety issue. It’s a rare day where I don’t see someone trip over a pile of bikes laying haphazardly in the way. With an increasingly aging city, the problem is compounded further. When I asked Mobike how it would reinvest some of its US$3 billion valuation into addressing the problem, I was met with silence.
The situation has gotten so out of control the Government has had to step in. Along with new age minimums and safety regulations for riders, China has stopped any new companies from forming. Most cities now prohibit the distribution of more bikes. Local governments must also work with companies to equally distribute existing bikes so as to avoid cluttering city streets.
Now, these companies are sending their wares overseas. While the idea in-and-of-itself is a great one – mobility, shared economy, exercise – its execution has already left much to be desired. Digging into the headlines we find, after only a few months of operation, disgruntled people in places like Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, London, and New York. Check out some of these quotes from recent news pieces.
“Welcomed in many cities, but not by everyone, the companies are already encountering a backlash. Opponents have branded Ofo and Mobike a menace, a plague and a public nuisance.”
“In San Francisco, China’s Bluegogo dumped hundreds bikes onto the streets in January without permission. City Supervisor Aaron Peskin called them a ‘public nuisance’ and threatened legal action against an ‘arrogant’ tech company.”
“In Singapore, the arrival of 30,000 bikes met with mixed reactions, with some people reportedly calling them a ‘menace.’”
“Residents Vent Their Frustration at New Bike-Share Service by…Dumping Them on a Sydney Oval.”
“Darcy Brown of the citizens group San Francisco Beautiful called Bluegogo a rogue company that was ‘bringing chaos to our public spaces’ and posing a ‘threat to the beauty and livability of our city.’ Bluegogo said the company has since pulled its bikes from San Francisco.”
“Shanghai-based blogger Marc Milián calls them a 'plague,' while locals have taken to social media to lambaste the ‘anarchic experiment’ that is creating ‘a new generation of trash.’”
“As Bike-Sharing Brings Out Bad Manners, China Asks, What’s Wrong With Us?”
Those of us in China have seen the future…and it’s not a pretty picture.
But, all is not lost. There is still the chance for companies like Mobike and Ofo to do things right. Perhaps they’ll learn from their disastrous strategies on the Mainland to improve how they operate overseas. As representatives of Brand China, the Government should also have an inherent interest in making sure they do well. At this stage, though, it looks like money is more important than long-term survival. Such a shortsighted viewpoint is not only bad for their businesses, but also for the sustainability of an idea that has so much potential.
What are your feelings about shared bikes? Are they a public good, public nuisance, or somewhere in between?