Chinese bike-sharing scheme transforms European city experience

Updated 2017-08-06 10:09:27 Xinhua
A row of Mobikes are seen in Manchester, Britain on June 29, 2017. Mobike, one of China's largest bike-sharing companies, launched its service in the Greater Manchester, Britain, on Thursday. (Xinhua/Craig Brough)

A row of Mobikes are seen in Manchester, Britain on June 29, 2017. Mobike, one of China's largest bike-sharing companies, launched its service in the Greater Manchester, Britain, on Thursday. (Xinhua/Craig Brough)

The technology is new, but the image is older -- bicycles.

China has, for decades, been associated in the minds of Westerners with a common image of bicycling workers and residents filling the streets. But in the 21st century, Chinese technology has made bicycles part of the Internet of Things (IOT).

A young Chinese company, Mobike, has created a fresh bike-sharing scheme that could change the lives of the people and the look of European cities, starting with the northern English city of Manchester, the first outside Asia to launch what is described as the world's first cashless and station-free bike-sharing scheme.

"INCREDIBLE" TECHNOLOGY

"At the end of last year, you can see all this press and rhetoric about innovation coming out of China and looking at all the different players there. For me, Mobike was the clear favorite," Steve Pyer, the UK general manager for Mobike, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview in Manchester.

Pyer described the technology as "incredible".

"Whereas most dock schemes have got nothing on them at all, suddenly here was this incredible innovation with all the technology on the bike. So you got rid of a lot of the barriers about having cycle hire in the city -- which is the expense, the planning permission, and the effort just to put these docks in," said Pyer.

In total, 25 million journeys are made on Mobikes' digitally rented bicycles each day globally, a number that is growing, with the first launch of 1,000 bicycles on the streets of Manchester on June 30 and 750 bicycles in London in September. The scheme has also been launched in Florence and Milan.

Users install an app on their phone, make payments to the app and then unlock it for use.

Using a GPS enabled device means the bikes are connected to Mobike all the time, said Pyer. Mobike knows where its bikes are always and collects data that could be used for city planning and improving transportation.

And the bikes have also been designed for the rugged demands of rental in the city. They are sturdy, with an internalized shaft drive, airless tyres and no spokes. The wheels are magnesium alloy for durability, and it means the bike should be able to be out in the public realm with very little maintenance.

The existing bicycle hire schemes in European cities are often expensive and time-consuming for installment and maintenance.

London, for example, has an extensive scheme centered around docking stations scattered across the inner part of the city. The London scheme has reportedly cost taxpayers more than 60 million GBP (78 million U.S. dollars) since its launch in 2010 and is still subsidized by 3.6 million GBP (4.7 million U.S. dollars) each year.

But Mobike, which costs nothing to public money, can create its presence in a short time. From initial talks, to bikes on the streets in Manchester was less than three months, according to Pyer.

"Suddenly you can get a rapid deployment and the city is just covered in bikes for everyone to use, and it really increases the access to bikes and the number of people that cycle," said Pyer.

Pyer had seven years of experience working on the London cycle hire scheme and he recognized in Mobike something more adaptable, leaner and younger than the traditional docking schemes, which he labels "old school".

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