Bike-sharing firms need an easier ride in Hong Kong
As Gobee.bike reaches the end of the road, the city must offer more support to ventures that help reduce air pollution and improve the environment
Bike sharing was once hailed by Gobee.bike as a faster, smarter and more environmentally friendly way to get around town.
With just a few taps on the mobile phone, one can conveniently locate the nearest bicycle available and use it to get to the cafeteria, gym or railway station at a fraction of the cost of a taxi ride.
Alas, the city’s first bike-sharing operator is going bust after just 15 months, raising questions over the prospects of such a service and other shared economy-based businesses in Hong Kong.
The collapse is not the first for Gobee.bike. Founded by a Frenchman with the support of Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, the company debuted in the city before reaching out to Europe.
But it pulled out of France, Belgium and Italy earlier this year.
Unfortunately, the final nail in the coffin came from Hong Kong, which was once seen as having huge potential for the bike-sharing business.
The company said it was unable to make the business profitable, in particular to meet the high maintenance cost of the bicycles. Users have another week to use up their prepaid credit.
The European operation amassed some 150,000 users in eight cities over four months, but it became unsustainable as 60 per cent of the fleet was “destroyed, stolen or privatised”, according to the company.
Whether the local business has suffered similar blows remains unclear, but there have been reports of vandalism and other problems.
The company is also facing keen competition from a handful of new players and conventional rental shops.
One failure does not spell the end of the industry, but it is doubtful whether bike sharing can flourish as in some cities on the mainland and overseas.
Hong Kong has never had a well thought out policy on the shared economy, and this is not helped when bicycles are treated more for recreational use rather than as a mode of transport.
The environment makes bike-sharing ventures challenging.
It takes more than innovative ideas to revolutionise the conventional.
Money and viable business models aside, institutional support is also essential.
Given cycling is conducive to citizens’ health and can help reduce air pollution, it pays to nurture a better environment to make bike-sharing services popular.