Shared bikes grind Shanghai's gears

Impounded bicycles from service providers Mobike and ofo spotted in Shanghai last Wednesday. While hailed as a way to tackle traffic jams and pollution, bike sharing has become viewed as a nuisance in some communities, with the two-wheelers often lef
Impounded bicycles from service providers Mobike and ofo spotted in Shanghai last Wednesday. While hailed as a way to tackle traffic jams and pollution, bike sharing has become viewed as a nuisance in some communities, with the two-wheelers often left behind by users outside designated parking areas such as pavements and even freeways.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SHANGHAI • Shanghai has impounded thousands of brightly coloured bikes placed on city streets by bicycle-sharing companies, in the latest sign of impatience with an explosion of the haphazardly parked two-wheelers.

The bike-sharing sector has become one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, with users typically renting the bicycles for short periods by first unlocking them through the use of mobile phone apps.

Costs can be as low as one yuan (20 Singapore cents) per hour and the bikes can be left anywhere for the next user to come along.

While hailed as a way to fight road traffic and pollution, the phenomenon has become viewed as a nuisance in some communities.

The bicycles are often left behind by the users in non-designated parking areas such as pavements and even freeways.

Row upon row of mostly orange and silver bikes from the company Mobike sat collecting dust in a massive carpark in Shanghai's Huangpu district, near the city's famed riverfront Bund area. They had been rounded up by a private company hired by the government to oversee bicycle parking.

The bikes began to accumulate over the past month, said a woman whose balcony overlooks the crowded storage area.

A Huangpu district government spokesman said shared bikes are not exempt from parking rules.

"Any vehicles that violate parking regulations will be impounded. It's the same for everyone," she added.

Mobike said it is in touch with the authorities and seeking to clarify what it called a "misunderstanding" by the company hired to round up the bikes.

The bike-share concept has attracted huge amounts of venture capital investment for key players Mobike and ofo, which have funnelled that money into placing hundreds of thousands of bikes in dozens of Chinese cities.

ofo alone has brokered more than 300 million rides. It has more than 20 million users with operations in nearly 40 cities in China, the United States, Singapore and Britain.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency said last Thursday that, over the past two years, more than 29 service providers have sprung up, placing more than three million bikes on streets around the country.

They may have to factor irate communities into business costs.

A community in Beijing called Mentougou impounded hundreds of shared bikes that were parked helter-skelter last month.

The machines were later returned to the providers.

More than 500 bicycles were dumped in huge piles on the streets of the southern city of Shenzhen in January, with images of the nearly 3m-high jumbled stacks going viral.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline 'Shared bikes grind Shanghai's gears'. Print Edition | Subscribe