China’s Bike-Sharing Business Meets Mixed Response Abroad

It only took two years for colorful rental bikes to dominate the landscape of China’s prosperous cities. Across the country, users have built a habit of finding a bike, scanning its code, riding off and locking up. The simple process has made rental bikes a key ingredient in solving the problem of “the last mile.”

The flourishing domestic market has led several bike-sharing start-ups, such as Mobike and ofo, to set their sights on expansion. Several companies have attempted to export China’s “smart technology” to the US, Singapore, the UK and Japan.

The mission has been bittersweet. While residents of Manchester and Oxford were eager to try the new bikes and post their photos online, bicycle sharing met with a cold reception in the US and Singapore. Will the interest in bicycle sharing stick in the UK, or will such business prove incompatible with the local culture?

Mobike debuted in Singapore in March, kicking off its overseas strategy. But four months later Mobike’s fleet has grown little. Many of its bikes were seized by city managers for being parked in random locations. “The hot weather deters people from riding shared bicycles, and the advanced public transportation system makes bicycling largely unnecessary,” a Singapore resident said.

Singapore news agencies reported that local businesses were frustrated with ofo. Several criticized it for “unfair competition” because of its extremely low price and evasion of fees associated with using public space.

Bluegogo suffered a hard blow in San Francisco. The City of San Fransisco penned a letter to Li Gang, CEO of Bluegogo, at the start of the year to emphasize the public’s right-of-way and note that Bluegogo’s business ran afoul of existing regulations and its franchise agreement failed to meet operational requirements.

But unlike Singapore and the US, residents of Oxford and Manchester were more open to China’s bike-sharing business.

Oxford City Councillor Louise Upton said she supported bike sharing. The more people share a bike, the better because it is not a nuisance, she said. But management of shared bicycles is crucial. “We won’t close our doors to this business, nor will we make a fuss over randomly parked bicycles along the street. Instead, we welcome it,” she said.

Adam Vokman, head of the Oxford University Innovation, said future attempts to promote the business must be adapted to the local market “Unlike China, we don’t have enough places to park bicycles. We focus on areas that already have a high density. The UK is already flooded with bikes. Bicycle sharing business in the UK is not the same as in China,” he said.

Recently, Baicycle (小白单车) entered Japan and cooperated with a number of key universities whose parking areas could be shared by Baicycle users. “If I see a bicycle available, I would like to use it because my work place is far from the station. It is unbearable to walk in summer,” said a Japanese user.

But since bike-sharing start-ups have yet to fully develop in the domestic market, why are they in such as hurry to expand abroad? ofo co-founder Zhang Siding said, “The competition for bicycle sharing is still in the first stage. Everyone has to get their products onto the streets as soon as possible so investors can see the business is promising.”

Zhang Lidong, chief editor of Chinese Private Business, said only when investors and operators fully consider and adapt to local regulations, transportation and city-planning can they find a foothold in an era of this fast-changing technology and make headway into new markets.


This article originally appeared in China National Radio and was translated by Pandaily.

Click here to read the original Chinese article.