Bike-sharing services

China orders bicycle sharers to be named, insured, and older than 12 years

Chinese authorities have released the first set of rules to regulate the country’s bicycle-sharing apps, where more than 30 companies have sprouted in less than a year.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 May, 2017, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 May, 2017, 10:50pm

China’s government has stepped into the country’s bicycle-sharing industry, issuing its first set of rules to instil discipline and best practice, after more than 30 companies sprouted in major cities in less than a year, creating a multibillion yuan industry with millions of users but with a multitude of social issues and annoyances.

Customers who use smartphone applications to rent bicycles must register their true identities, and can no longer be anonymous, according to guidelines issued Monday by the Ministry of Transport, which will be available for two weeks for public feedback.

Users must be older than 12 years, and be insured for personal accidents and third-party liability. Any illegal acts committed, or “uncivilised behaviour” will be recorded and leave a mark on the user’s credit record, according to the rules.

The rules are the first since smartphone-enabled applications like Mobike, Ofo and another three dozen companies took the country by storm in late 2016, and filled city streets with a palette of

multicoloured conveyances to distinguish their apps. They have been popular as so-called “last mile” transportation to subway stations and major transportation hubs, especially in notoriously congested urban centres like Beijing and Shanghai.

Mobike, whose orange bicycles share roughly equal dominance of Beijing’s streets with Ofo’s yellow conveyances, reportedly gets 20 million rides everyday.

The proliferation of the shared bicycles, with their business model built on customers being able to pick up a bicycle anywhere, and leave it anywhere after use, has created new problems of their own. Unused bicycles are strewn around subway stations, badly maintained and there’s no certification of their roadworthiness.

The guidance has been “expected by the market,” as major operators like Mobike and Ofo are already requiring their customers to be registered and to be insured, said Analysys International’s senior analyst Zhang Xu in Beijing.

Still, the rules came with some surprises. App operators are encouraged to stop requiring customers to put down a cash deposit to use the service. The sharing of electric bicycles, or mopeds, are discouraged, according to the rules, without an explanation.

“Even though the supervision of electric bikes is harder than manual powered bikes, it shouldn’t be an excuse to refuse the business model entirely,” because it’s an additional service option that broadens choices for the consumer, said Zhang.

A possible explanation may be in China’s archaic definition of transportation, that considers anything motorised to be in the same vehicle category as motorcycles, cars and trucks.

Already, an app called “Number 7” (7號電單車) found itself the test case of China’s untested traffic regulations. The Beijing-based company was ordered by Shenzhen’s authorities to recycle all its 400 vehicles in the city in January, a day after rolling out the service on a test case, because 90 per cent of the city’s streets were not meant for non-motorised vehicles. On March 26, the service obtained the permission from Shenzhen’s police department to be the sole approved provider of motorised bicycles in the city.

Still, Beijing and Shanghai released guidelines in April that made it clear these cities won’t allow electric bikes to be shared.