China scrambles to tame rental bike chaos

A pile of Ofo bicycles at a repair centre in Beijing last month. Some 30 bike-sharing companies have placed over three million bikes on streets around China, according to state media.
A pile of Ofo bicycles at a repair centre in Beijing last month. Some 30 bike-sharing companies have placed over three million bikes on streets around China, according to state media.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • A booming rental bike business has flooded China's streets with packs of cyclists, but their habit of going the wrong way and abandoning their rides anywhere is causing havoc.

The authorities, scrambling to catch up, are considering new regulations to curb the chaos - from capping the number of bikes to even barring people they consider too big or too small for bicycles.

Unlike the docking station systems in London, Paris or New York, the bikes in China can essentially be found and left anywhere.

From Beijing to Tibet, riders can grab yellow, blue, green or orange bikes by opening a smartphone app, and pointing their cameras at a QR code that releases a lock for as low as 1 yuan (20 Singapore cents).

Once the ride is over, they simply park the bike and apply the lock.

But many simply leave the bikes in the middle of pavements or abandon them haphazardly on freeways. The rules that do exist are often ignored. This has culminated in fatal accidents in recent months, including the death of a child, spurring officials into action.

In recent weeks, police around the country have impounded thousands of bikes that were discarded in piles. But companies plan to put thousands more on the streets.

"I like the convenience of cycling instead of taking the subway, but the system backfires when the sheer amount of bikes causes traffic jams in some areas," said Beijing student Zhang Wei, 21.

"Many people also don't know how to ride very well, and it is annoying when they swerve around or cycle in the wrong direction."

Some 30 different providers wrestling for market share have placed more than three million bikes on streets around the country, according to state media.

There were 18.9 million users of shared bicycles nationwide last year, and that number is expected to rise to 50 million by the end of this year, according to the China E-Commerce Research Centre.

China's Ministry of Transport on Monday released a draft proposal on rules requiring local governments to better manage the booming bike-sharing industry, including the development of dedicated parking zones.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'China scrambles to tame rental bike chaos'. Print Edition | Subscribe