Mobike Poised to Revolutionise Urban Bicycle Use?
Mobike’s innovative mobile bicycle rental application recently expanded to Beijing following its successful debut in Shanghai last December. A private Internet company founded by former Uber Shanghai Executive Wang Xiaofeng, Mobike provides users with a GPS-based application to locate cycles available nearby or across town. To start peddling, riders simply use their smartphones to scan a QR code between the bike’s handlebars, unlocking it for use and starting a timer.
Unlike other successful bike-lending schemes, Mobike does not have designated parking stations, rather its users can park the service’s distinctive orange-rimmed bikes anywhere with the app-controlled smart lock. Allowing users to look ahead and book available bikes to go from the bus stop or subway station to their destination, Mobike articulates well with public transportation. Solving the ‘last kilometre’ problem for urban dwellers, this inter-modality builds off Hangzhou’s successful model – the referent model for the majority of new bike-sharing schemes in China – by eliminating the need to walk long distances or search for a parking rack to dismount.
Mobike’s service is not without its kinks, however. Although the dismount-anywhere scheme is revolutionary, it also means that riders can leave bikes in inconvenient locations where it is hard or even impossible for other users to find or access them. The Mobike team is refining a points-based system to punish unruly riders and encourage users to leave the bikes in more convenient locations.
Although China has been at the forefront of the recent global boom in bike-sharing programs, not all of the country’s schemes have been successfully managed. For example, the private company selected to run Wuhan’s government-subsidized sharing operation struggled to keep up with the expansion and maintenance of its 90,000-bike fleet. With a large share of active bikes in disrepair and the introduction of fees for the service, user numbers declined.
Mobike will doubtlessly need to develop a large fleet to provide China’s sprawling cities with a network dense enough that users can move from one point to another without worrying about bike-availability, especially near popular initiation spots where rival bike-stations are set up. This density is also requisite for the diverse range of uses – including regular or exceptional trips, business or leisure – that will help maximise its user base. Although the points-based discipline system will improve bike-accessibility, the Wuhan case sheds light on the logistical issues Mobike faces in maintaining this necessarily large fleet without the organizational aid of parking stations.
Despite these challenges, Mobike’s cheap 2RMB-per-hour price-point, streamlined registration process, back-system data collection, and dismount-anywhere scheme positions the new urban service to compete with city-run schemes.