Bike sharing programs face tricky balancing act in China and abroad

China 24

Bike-sharing has been sweeping China over the past few years. But, with its growing popularity have come problems.

Other countries are watching closely as they launch their own programs.

CGTN’s Frances Kuo reports.

It’s a different spin on the concept of hitting the road: dockless bike sharing.

“I think it’s really good,” said Sarah Rios, a bike sharing user.  “And it’s really convenient. Right now, I guess if I want to save up for a bike, I can, while I can use this on a day-to-day basis.”

The concept is simple: you use a smartphone app to unlock and rent a bike.

When you’re done, you leave it wherever you want without having to park it at a station.

“So the bike has GPS on it so we know where the bikes are,” said Ryan Rzepecki, CEO of JUMP Bikes.  “And then because the lock is secure and locks to things, we have really good accountability, so we know which user last used the bike and where they locked it up at the end of the trip. And so if there’s anything that goes wrong, if the bike wasn’t logged properly, we can go to that last user and hold them accountable for that.”

But, it hasn’t always gone as planned.

In China, the rented bikes have popped up in random places, clogging city sidewalks and streets and causing traffic accidents.

Some say the bike sharing industry has grown too big and too fast.

When it first took off a few years ago, competitors flooded the market.  Since then, demand hasn’t kept up with supply.

Improperly parked bikes get dumped into so-called “graveyards,” creating towering eyesores.

For its part, the Chinese government is considering measures to rein in the industry such as fining companies which don’t properly control their supplies of bikes and barring companies from entering already saturated cities.

“There must be a responsibility in market supervision and management,” said Zhang Lianqi, of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference National Committee.  “Meanwhile, there must be some restrictive conditions, with the invisible hand of the market well-matched with the visible hand of the government.”

“It’s really a question about how do we do that right,” said Toby Sun, Co-Founder & CEO of LimeBike.

LimeBike put its first dockless bikes on California roads last June.  The state, along with major U.S. cities, has limited the number of companies that can operate and how many bikes it can offer.

“I think it’s definitely tougher than it is in China, but I think that’s a good thing,” said Sun.

“You’ve seen things that are unsustainable in other markets,” said Caen Contee, Co-Founder of LimeBike.  “The degree to which is figuring out what is the right amount, growing it based on data, it allows for us to create a defenseful market that really is the one that’s serving the people best and allowing for the best product to win.”

Yu Zhang discusses challenges with the bike-sharing industry in China

CGTN’s Mike Walter talks to Yu Zhang, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida, about China’s bike-sharing industry.