'Graveyards' of shared bikes beg the question

Ying Tianyi
A more valuable lesson will be that, in the future, local governments might think twice before jumping on the fancy bandwagon of sharing economy.
Ying Tianyi

A demolition site at the intersection of Haining Road and Wujin Road in Shanghai has turned into a “graveyard” of shared bikes. According to the Shanghai Municipal Transportation Commission, over 10,000 shared bikes are piled up there.

And the over-supply of shared bikes is now spreading to second-tier cities in China. There is even a “water graveyard” of shared bikes in Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi Province. There, bikes dumped in the river have to be fished out.

Most of the shared bikes in the graveyards are either collected by authorities or abandoned.

Bike-sharing companies are obliged to collect the confiscated bikes and put them into use again after making necessary repairs. However, as reported on portal China.org.cn, some of the abandoned shared bikes in Dachang, Shanghai’s Baoshan Disctrict, have been waiting for “rescue” for more than two years. Some companies no longer exist to collect the bikes.

A question has to be answered: Are we mature enough to embrace the bike-sharing mania? Or is the development of the bike-sharing system going way too fast?

One country that has been highly circumspect in importing innovative foreign business models, in particular the bike rental initiative, is Japan. So far, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has only granted special permission for bike-sharing operators to use public space within the compounds of large buildings.

Two major questions that concern citizens in Japan are: When will there be a specific regulation governing the bike share industry and how to minimize the possibility of bikes being parked illegally?

The question should also be addressed in China, where the concept of bike-sharing caught on in late 2016.

Apart from the two major operators, Ofo and Mobike, players like Xiaoming, Xiaolan and Wukong have forced their way into the business over the past two years, though many of them bowed out after a couple of months.

The consequences can be severe: Customers struggle to get their deposits back; many government find themselves mired in a management crisis; existing companies are haemorrhaging.

It was even more embarrassing when Mobike reported to the police when they found that their bikes had been dismantled by some local government without their consent.

All such chaos could be blamed on government’s lack of foresight in hastily introducing the scheme. Careful preparations should have been made before the whole idea took shape.

Urban planners should have conducted a meticulous feasibility study on dockless bikes when even bikes that come with docks — which sounds rather old-fashioned today — have never been properly regulated. As a result, some local authorities are taking a second look at the situation. A draft regulation governing the management of shared bikes has been recently issued by the transport authority in Shanghai.

The draft says that bike-sharing companies must assume responsibility for their bikes or face fines. It also suggests that locating devices be installed on all bikes so that both operators and the urban authorities can track their bikes with ease.

There will also be a system of rewards and penalties whereby operators will be evaluated for maintenance, service and user credibility. This means those who provide better service will have more parking spaces, while those with poor ratings will face more restrictions.

A more valuable lesson will be that, in the future, local governments might think twice before jumping on the fancy bandwagon of sharing economy.

The author is a freelancer.

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