Bike-sharing services

Chinese Bike-sharing services attract more than 100 million users in the past year

Hu Weiwei, co-founder of market leader Mobike, says a tenth of China’s urban dwellers now choose to cycle as their main mode of transport, up from 5 per cent just 12 months ago

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 August, 2017, 3:58pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 August, 2017, 10:49pm

China’s nascent bike-sharing industry has attracted more than 100 million users just a year after its debut in the country’s tech scene, as startups backed by Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding touted free rides and carpeted urban sidewalks with millions of bikes.

The number of people using mobile apps to rent bikes reached 106 million by the end of June, says China Internet Network Information Center, the Chinese government’s online industry research facility.

The centre, which for the first time included bike-sharing in its biennial internet report, said around 14 per cent of China’s 751 million internet users have now used smartphones to rent a bike, fueled by “technology development” and “capital injection”.

Bike-sharing only emerged in China’s rapidly changing tech scene after startup Mobike launched its services in Shanghai in April 2016, but has now become one of the country’s fiercest online battlefronts, being fought out by more than 30 players.

Hu Weiwei, one of the co-founders of Mobike, said the most satisfying thing for her bike-sharing venture is that a tenth of China’s urban dwellers now choose a bike as their main mode of transport, up from 5 per cent a year ago.

“The government is actively encouraging bike-sharing, too, offering a lot more designated parking areas,” she told a forum in Beijing on Saturday.

Led by Mobike and Ofo, the industry has attracted billions in investment from the likes of Warburg Pincus, DST Global, Tencent and Alibaba.

Start-ups have bombarded users with introductory offers coupons to attract more cycling – some for less than one yuan per hour­­‑– and built extensive bike-rental networks, which have even started to expand markets beyond China.

Earlier this month, Tencent-backed Mobike launched its service in London, its third city in the United Kingdom, and Alibaba-backed Ofo announced a foray into Thailand.

Ofo aims to operate 20 million bikes in 20 countries by the year’s end, while its rival Mobike wants to more than triple its coverage to 100 cities.

There have been doubters over bike-sharing services, especially over their high operational and maintenance costs.

Companies have to hire large numbers of people to collect and move bikes to in-demand areas in different cities, not to mention the costs on the bikes themselves inflicted by vandals, and thieving of bikes.

But the Chinese government has given its official nod to bike-sharing, defining it as a “green urban transportation model” in its first set of nationwide rules to “encourage” and “regulate” the emerging industry.

A clutch of agencies, backed by the country’s cabinet, issued broad guidelines on bike-sharing earlier this month, asking service producers such as Mobike and Ofo to protect the data of users who are helping to unclog city sidewalks and streets.

The guidelines, crafted jointly by departments including the transport ministry and central bank, encourage municipalities to build proper road and parking infrastructure and ensure the safety of bikers.