Chinese ‘bed sharing’ firm halts services amid concerns over safety, hygiene
A Chinese start-up offering a “bed sharing” service has suspended operations after concerns were raised about safety and hygiene.
The move is the latest setback for China’s burgeoning sharing economy, which has seen bike-sharing firms shut and an umbrella-sharing company suffer losses after users stole, vandalised or misplaced their products.
The case also highlights how the authorities are struggling to adapt and formulate regulations as new and relatively untested services constantly appear on the market.
Bed-sharing units operated by Beijing-based Xiangshui Space were closed after the public questioned security and hygiene issues.
The company launched 15 units in Beijing in May and was testing several more in Shanghai and Chengdu. The sleeping pods, which look like they belong on a spacecraft, are mainly designed for office workers to take a nap during work.
Ren Jiangong, founder of the firm, admitted that improvements needed to be made over fire safety, checking the identity of users, plus cleaning and they are upgrading their units after the issues raised by the public and the authorities.
“From the perspective of supervision, if Xiangshui Space is defined as a hotel, we should obtain permits from fire, sanitation and other industrial departments before we can put it into operation, but it remains to be discussed [whether we should be required to obtain these permits] considering the way we position ourselves now,” Ren said on the social media platform WeChat.
Ren stressed that the sleeping quarters were not capsule hotels as they target office workers and are only open between working hours, 9am to 6pm.
Chinese media reported that all the firm’s units in Beijing were closed earlier this week and the three in Shanghai undergoing trials were shut by the fire department.
But several staff from the firm told the South China Morning Post the company volunteered to close all its units after discussions with the authorities and they would reopen when improvements were made and permits obtained.
Chinese are embracing the sharing economy, from bike-sharing startups to smartphone power banks, umbrellas and more – all of which can be borrowed for a fee with the use of a phone.
Some 600 million people used services created under the sharing economy last year, a market worth 3.45 trillion yuan (US$508 billion) – up 103 per cent on the previous year, according to the State Council Information Office.
Chen Liteng, an analyst at the Hangzhou-based China E-Commerce Research Centre, said: “There’s no order without rules, so supervision is necessary… but as long as the startup doesn’t damage market order, the authorities shouldn’t intervene too much.”
The central government said in a directive issued at the beginning of the month it encourages the development of the sharing economy, but pledges to adopt a “tolerant but cautious” attitude to supervision.
Chen said: “From a macro perspective, [the authorities] are supportive of the sharing economy, but when the sharing concept starts to affect a certain sector, there is often too much supervision and little support as they come up with many new rules to fill in the blanks, hoping to put the market in order as soon as possible.”