Poor quality of shared bicycles fuels complaints

Company executives insist they're doing all they can to satisfy unhappy customers with maintenance workers on the lookout for unusable machines.
Dong Jun / SHINE

Shared bikes on Weihai Road

The shared bike industry is battling a new irritant — that of poor bike quality — but while riders have legitimate reasons to be miffed, company executives insist that the number of unusable bikes are very few.

Chen Qingbin would use shared bikes from his Yinduyi Community neighborhood in Jing’an District to get to Gongkang Road Station on Metro Line 1, a distance of about 1.5 kilometers. He now takes the bus.

“Either the handlebars were slanted, or the seats loose or the pedals broken,” Chen said. “And they are just the visible parts.” 

Chen said he would often have to dump one and look for another bike — a waste of time. “The bus is less likely to break down,” Chen said.

Another regular shared bike user Fang Le complained about too many “uncomfortable rides.” Fang said he would report the malfunctioning bikes to the app firms almost every day. “I’m not even sure if my feedbacks are read at all,” Fang said.

Ofo, one of the shared bike companies, said it does. A company representative, Ma Yibing, said there are over 1,000 maintenance workers in Shanghai “who walk miles every day to find glitches among the 700,000 yellow bikes in the city.” 

“The feedbacks from users are important,” said Ma. “Ofo has also developed a device to find bikes that needs repairs.”

A maintenance worker who identified himself only as Guo said the device is a barcode scanner. “By scanning the serial number on the bike, we get all the information of the bike including its service condition and history,” Guo said. He said if the bike hasn’t been unlocked or used for more than 72 hours, the system tags the bike “possibly malfunctioning.” 

“Damaged bikes are tagged and circled by tapes to warn users that the bike is out of order,” said Ma.

The Shanghai Bicycle Association’s head Guo Jianrong says that the serviceability ratio of the bikes should be at least 95 percent but he estimates that roughly 40 percent bikes on the street are unusable.

Both ofo and Mobike, the other shared bike firm, dispute that claim, saying the number of damaged bikes are manageable. “Some of the bikes have been around for a while or simply overused,” Ma said. “The chains get rusted, the pedals loose,” suggesting that they may simply need to be repaired. 

Routine maintenance

Mobike’s Yang Beiyi said that on average about 5,000 bikes are sent back to the factory for maintenance every day. She said not all of them are damaged, but are taken away for routine maintenance.

Yang said there are about 676,000 Mobikes in Shanghai.

The industry has also been hit by the strict regulations issued by the city authorities who have banned new bikes on the street, but does allow damaged bikes to be replaced.

As of last count, there were about 1.7 million shared bikes in Shanghai by the end of last year, down from 1.8 million before the authorities cracked down to halt the menace of bikes choking every available space on the roads and streets.

Both Mobike and ofo recently replaced 100 old bikes in Jing’an District. An online platform, launched by the traffic authority, keeps a track of the bikes on the road — a herculean task.

But other irritants remain. Xiaoming Bike, which went bust in December, has not removed its non-functioning bikes from the roads. It is estimated that about 70,000 of the blue color bikes still clog the sidewalks. “I think the big firms should repair and reuse them,” ofo’s Guo said. “Otherwise they are just garbage on the streets.” 

According to Guo, the ideal number of bikes in the city should be 600,000. 

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