China ordered bicycle sharing companies in Beijing to remove redundant bicycles from roads on Friday. China’s bike sharing startups were once considered an attempt by young entrepreneurs to shape modern Chinese society through technology, but the rapid expansion of the industry has started posing safety and social problems.
Beijing, which has a population of 23 million, has 10 bicycle sharing companies with a total of 1.9 million bicycles. The Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport conducted a survey which found that less than 50 percent of the bicycles were in use.
On Friday, the commission issued a new set of regulations stating that all bike-sharing companies will take damaged or idle bikes off Beijing’s streets.
The new measures also say a regulation and service platform would be created, non-shared bike parking areas would be set up, an evaluating system to supervise bike quality would be set up, and all shared electric bikes will be withdrawn from the city.
Shared bikes have become ubiquitous across China’s major cities. These bicycles have revolutionised urban travel in the two years since the model was launched, and investors have poured billions into the bicycle sharing companies.
As the model and business grew exponentially with over 130 million users, there have been increasing concerns about the financial viability of the bike sharing companies, and a number of such companies have shut down over the past year.
The bicycles also created far more pressing infrastructure problems that affected the lives of residents. Among the complaints are that riders would park their bikes anywhere they chose, they cause traffic chaos and problems for pedestrians.
China has at least 60 bicycle sharing firms that offer users at least 18 million shared bicycles to use. The Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport had last year stated that there are 200,000 shared bikes over and above the city’s total demand.
In Beijing, starting a ride is as simple as finding a cycle parked anywhere, unlocking it using a smartphone QR code, and pedalling away. Rides start from as little as RMB 1 (at least Rs 10) per hour, and rides from some brands are free over weekends.
Customers have to subscribe to these bike sharing services by paying an initial deposit. Last year, Bluegogo, a bike-sharing startup with 20 million users and 700,000 bikes, shut down and is said to have defaulted on paying back the deposit of its subscribers, which reportedly ran into millions of dollars.