The Bicycle-sharing System in China

When people go to any major cities in China, they will find plenty of colorful bikes on the streets. These colorful bikes totally changed people’s way of traveling in urban cities in China.

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The urban public transport allows people to go out without driving. In a modern city, people can travel to the majority of places by taking subways, buses, or taxis. However, the last one-mile problem always affects the efficiency of traveling in a city. The last one-mile represents the last short distance from a station of public transportation to a destination. Most of the time, people need to walk through this distance. Although the distance is quite short and won’t take too much time to walk through, it does affect traveling efficiency. Riding a bicycle is a desirable way to travel through the last mile. However, this way only works if people carry bikes with them or park bikes near the public transportations. The bicycle-sharing system helps people solve this last one-mile problem. With the bicycle-sharing system, people don’t have to own their bikes. Instead, they can just use the bikes that the companies put in public. To rent a bike, people only need to download a phone app online and scan a code on the bike. There is no drop-off point, and people can park the bikes wherever they want as long as they are in a public place and don’t affect other transportations. Each bike has a GPS locator, so people can find the bikes easily through their apps. At midnight, the employees from the companies will collect those bicycles and put them in the places where are easy for people to find, like next to apartments, bus stations, metro stations, etc. Because of the bicycle-sharing system, people are more likely to travel with public transportation, rather than driving their own cars, and traffic becomes less busy during rush hours. My home in China is twenty minutes walk away from a metro station. Before we had sharing bikes, my parents always gave me a ride or I would call a taxi when I wanted to go out. After we have sharing bikes, my time of taking a metro increased a lot. Twenty-minutes walk became an eight-minutes ride, and it is more relaxed to ride a bike than walk. The bicycle-sharing system totally changed my way of traveling in my hometown.

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Moreover, companies used the data collected from the GPS locator of each bike to graph a city’s real-time density map for traffic and transportation dynamics. The government could improve the urban public transport based on those data. For example, Nanchang, a city in China, planned to construct tow metro lines. The government used the data from Mobike to know the density map around planned metro lines and construct urban development based on the map for a greater land value.

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The bicycle-sharing system grew at a tremendous speed in China. At first, there was only one company called Mobike in the market, who had dozens of thousands of bicycles in the major cities. Today, there are about ten companies running a bicycle-sharing business. The biggest two companies are Mobike and Ofo, and each of them has about 7 million bikes in operation in more than 170 cities in China. However, the problems of the bicycle-sharing system raised with the number of sharing bicycles increased. Sometimes, the sharing-bike users abandoned the bikes in crowded places, which caused traffic. In the places like metro entrances, bus stations, local high schools, etc, people could see an affluent number of bikes. The bikes blocked the street and made pedestrians hard to walk through the area. To solve the problem, some of the bike-sharing companies made the punishments to the users who parked the bikes in a restricted area. Also, the rapid growth of bicycle-sharing business made the supply of the bikes surpass the demand for the bikes. The bicycle-sharing companies prepared too many bikes that many areas didn’t have the space to park them. In addition, the low quality of the bikes wouldn’t allow them to last long. As a result, tons of unused bikes and broken bikes were abandoned at a “bicycle graveyard”. Wasted bicycles and “bicycle graveyard” are the pollution to the local people. Those abandoned sharing bikes are unrecyclable and occupy land resources. The next step for the government and the sharing-bike companies is to make sharing bikes sustainable.

bicycle burial ground in Xiamen

The bicycle-sharing system brought lots of benefits to the society. It helped people solve the last-mile problem and make urban public transport more accessible. Also, the data generated from the bikes was a reliable resource for analysts to design urban constructions. However, the sharing bikes also caused lots of problems. The vast number of bikes in the crowded areas created traffic. Also, the companies need to find a more sustainable way to handle broken and unused bikes.

8 thoughts on “The Bicycle-sharing System in China

  1. Similar to the bicycle sharing business, is the scooter sharing business which has become very popular in California. However the major problem with these types of companies, as you touched on, is the users leaving them in heavy traffic areas on sidewalks and in streets. This has caused some cities, such as San Francisco, to ban certain companies. I do believe that cities are the most effective place for implementation of this service, but they do need to find a solution because these scooters and bikes are causing a lot of problems for pedestrians as well as drivers.

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  2. I enjoyed reading your blog because it is shows both the positives and negatives of bike sharing. I’m not from a city, so I hadn’t witnessed the impact of this business in my hometown, but I can definitely see its presence on BC’s campus. Lime bikes can always be seen parked around campus, and although they have not become an issue for students walking to class, I can understand how that problem would be magnified in a large city where hundreds of people are using them daily.

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    • I saw Lime bikes outside of Walsh the other day! One of the things I love about being so close to Boston is the exposure we get to some of the hottest trends and newest innovations.

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  3. I appreciate you explaining both the positives and the drawbacks of bike sharing. I’ve seen Lime Bikes, Citi bikes, and others in growing numbers around Boston. The low cost of using these bikes is a great incentive to take a ride in order to cut down on a commute or simply to enjoy a ride without buying a bike of your own. I wasn’t aware that employees would pick up and redistribute the bikes overnight, which is definitely a great way to ensure they are used efficiently considering that I often see these bikes discarded in random places. I hope that the concerns you raised are taken into account as these companies expand more in the United States.

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  4. Nice post. I think that the bike sharing companies in the US are experiencing similar challenges as those in China. It will be interesting to see whether and how they can solve these problems to deliver a sustainable business.

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  5. This is a super awesome idea in relation to the sharing economy! I wonder who are the workers that help bring the bikes back to their original location – are they government or company employed? I also am curious to see if this is a widespread idea throughout China, or if it can expand into more rural regions. Thanks for sharing, Hongbo!

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  6. Great post! Mobike also recently arrived in Chile and it changed the way many of my peers commute. They were having similar problems there with some bikes found in rivers or people parking the bikes inside their houses. I was just reading at Mobike FAQ ( https://mobike.com/us/faq ) and they actually just implemented a Mobike score which starts at 550 and if it goes lower than 100 your account is suspended. They are really trying to make sure that people take care of the bikes and park them in somewhere that it doesn’t obstruct traffic.

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  7. Awesome post, Hongbo! I just recently posted a blog on dockless scooters. The concept is the exact same — the scooter work to serve the last mile of travel. I see the value of these sharing programs in big cities where driving is not efficient and public transport places people still far from their final destination. However, I do not know if scooters and bikes are the right solution. These vehicles are dangerous for riders in big cities, where aggressive drivers rule the roads. In addition, as you mentioned, these vehicles are often treated poorly and left in annoying places. Although a solution is needed for the final mile of travel, the current state of scooters and bikes is not the right one.

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