By Duncan Gordon
China’s bicycle sharing apps have been making headlines at home and abroad for their convenience and contribution to building sustainable cities. Just scan the bike’s code with your phone and off you go to work. They cost next to nothing, leave no emissions and can be parked anywhere, within reason. As the various apps have grown in popularity, they have started to face new challenges.
Operators of three bike sharing companies; Mobike, Ofo and Bluegogo met Shanghai officials on Saturday after reports of children under the age of 12 riding bicycles on roads, which is illegal in China. They promised to revamp equipment and security to block underage users from accessing their bikes.
Mobike and Bluegogo have smart lock bicycles that can only be unlocked using a code on a smartphone. As users must register their ID with the app, this should prevent kids from using it. However, Ofo’s bikes currently have a four-digit code that some users forget to scramble, meaning a passing child can try their luck and ride the bike for free.
The companies said they will put warnings on their vehicles and assisst specialists to patrol schools and parks.
One of the main attractions of these apps is that the bicycles can be parked pretty much anywhere that is a public space. Most people are sensible enough to leave them alongside other bicycles on pavements and in designated bicycle parking spaces. The apps encourage users to take a photo of bikes that have been parked dangerously, obstruct a pavement or road, or are out of reach of the general public.
However, some people are not so well-disposed. It can be very frustrating to locate a bike on the app, go looking for it by following directions on the built-in map, only to find someone has left it inside their apartment block. As the only way to report a bike is to take a photo of it parked inappropriately this poses a problem. You can’t get in the building to take a photo of it. So some people can effectively steal the bicycles, guaranteeing themselves a ride to work each day without having to search for a bike, and without facing any punishment.
The bike-sharing apps could try to find a way for users to report bikes they suspect are out of reach of the public.
Damage and abuse
All bicycles are prone to wear and tear. But when they are in almost constant use all-day everyday by different people using them to get from A to B, those risks are multiplied. Bicycles may be mistreated by users who have no liability as it is impossible to determine who, intentionally or unintentionally, damaged a bike. Nonetheless, the likes of Mobike, Ofo and Bluegogo needn’t lose too much sleep over this as there can’t be many people out there with a strong desire to destroy a bicycle. You never know though…
There are now over 100,000 shared bicycles in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The various companies who own them face challenges going forward but they are undoubtedly changing the landscape of urban transport in China and perhaps beyond.