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Bike-sharing services

Parents of Ofo’s bicycle user sue company for negligence after tragic Shanghai accident

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 1:47pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 11:00pm

Beijing Bikelock Technology Co., the biggest among the Chinese bicycle-sharing services that are taking the country by storm, is being sued for negligence by the parents of a child who died in an accident riding its Ofo bicycles, in the first suit of its kind in the world’s largest ride-sharing market.

The suit emanated from a March 26 accident in Shanghai, where a coach struck an 11-year-old child on an Ofo bicycle, riding against traffic while turning a corner. The fourth-grade child, who was too young to gain access to an Ofo account on smartphone, had cracked open the mechanical padlock on the bicycle to ride it.

Watch: How a Chinese boy picks a bicycle lock with nothing but his bare hands and a keen ear

Shanghai’s police had concluded that the primary responsibility in the accident was with the child, as traffic law forbids children under the age of 12 to take their bicycles on to public roads, and the child was riding illegally against oncoming traffic. The coach driver was deemed to be responsible on a secondary count, as he neglected to confirm safe passage while making a turn, according to the police.

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

The parents of the deceased child sued, claiming that the locks installed on Ofo’s bicycles were defective, allowing the underage child to gain access even without an Ofo account, according to the plaintiff’s attorney. They sued for 8.78 million yuan (US$1.3 million) in damages, and demanded that Ofo replaces all of their mechanical locks with safer devices.

Ofo uses mechanical padlocks on its yellow bicycles, which can be opened using a four-digit passcode. If the previous rider fails to lock the bicycle, or locks the bicycle without erasing the passcode, anybody else can easily unlock the vehicle for use, even without an Ofo account for identity verification.

Mobike, Ofo’s biggest competitor, uses electronic locks on its orange bicycles, requiring registered users to input dynamic passwords sent to them via text messages.

Ofo had 62.7 million active monthly users as of May 2017, larger than Mobike’s 58.4 million, according to iResearch’s data.

The Beijing company earlier this month secured more than US$700 million of fresh funding from investors led by Alibaba Group Holdings, the owner of the South China Morning Post. Other investors include Hony Capital and Citic Private Equity.

Ofo will handle the matter in accordance with the legal procedure, a company spokesman said in Beijing in response to the Post’s query.

Ofo had apologised in an online statement after the March accident, saying that it will find ways to deter underage children from gaining access to its bicycles. The company announced on June 20 it’s working with China Telecom and Huawei Technology to equipment its bicycles with so-called smart locks based on the Internet of Things (IoT), or interconnected technology. It also raised the deposit fee on using its bicycles to 199 yuan, from the current 99 yuan.