Chinese bike sharing firm eyes market leadership in Paris

Updated 2017-12-22 09:00:20 Xinhua
The repairer Yoann Andrieux heads across a street to maintain an Ofo bike in Paris, France, on Dec. 20, 2017. (Xinhua/Chen Yichen)

The repairer Yoann Andrieux heads across a street to maintain an Ofo bike in Paris, France, on Dec. 20, 2017. (Xinhua/Chen Yichen)

Two weeks after its launch here, one of China's popular bike sharing schemes, Ofo, is aiming for leadership in the rapidly growing market as the city strives to promote green transport to cut emissions.

The company's signature bright yellow bikes can be found at both iconic landmarks and tranquil street corners around the city, and are quickly gaining popularity among locals and tourists alike.

"The experience is great! All you have to do is download the app and scan the QR code on the bike. It's more convenient compared to the old bike sharing system," said Vigot Claire, a Parisian taking a ride near the City Hall square.

Ofo, a Beijing-based company founded in 2014, has successfully launched its dock-less bike sharing service in more than 250 cities worldwide, including European cities like Milan, Madrid, Vienna, Prague and London.

Paris is its latest attempt to grab a bigger share of the European market, with the first batch of around 100 bikes deployed in the city center on Dec. 6. So far, the number of bikes has exceeded 1,000.

"The first reactions are very positive, and the number of users has doubled in the second week," said Laurent Kennel, head of Ofo's French branch, in an interview with Xinhua.

Parisians are no strangers to bike sharing. The oldest sharing scheme Velib was launched by the municipal government in 2007, and operates some 1,800 docks and over 20,000 bikes.

Earlier this year, Hong Kong-based Gobee and Singapore-owned oBike also launched their versions of dock-less bikes in Paris.

Facing tough competition, Kennel said Ofo was confident in the quality of its bikes and services.

Compared to Velib, the dock-less Ofo bikes don't have to be put back in a fixed station. They are also equipped with three gears, while the other two Asian competitors only offer gear-less bikes.

"In addition, they have solid tires, drum brakes, and a technological advance on padlocks," Kennel added. "We have worked on European standards. Quality is the asset of Ofo."

Charging 0.5 euro (0.59 U.S. cents) per 20 minutes, Ofo bikes are slightly more expensive than its competitors. To attract new users, the company is offering free rides for the first 40 minutes until the end of the year.

"We bet on quality instead of price by offering a bike with high speed and high quality, and our ambition is to take the leadership in the market," said Kennel.

This goal seems challenging as Velib has already over 300,000 subscribers, but Kennel stressed that Ofo's ambition was not to take over Velib's market share, but to make a "complementary offer" to encourage more people to commute with bikes.

In Paris, where a landmark deal to curb climate change was reached by over 190 countries in December 2015, cutting carbon dioxide emissions in the transportation sector remains a difficult task, as some 600,000 vehicles are driven in the city every day.

In April 2015, the city adopted the ambitious "Plan Velo" (Bike Plan) which aims to transform traffic-choked Paris into the world's "cycling capital."

Concrete measures in the plan include doubling the length of bicycle lanes from the current 700 km to 1,000 km and creating 10,000 new parking places for bikes by 2020.

To Ofo, this plan means enormous market potential and an opportunity to participate in the global climate mission.

"Ofo would like to work together with the municipal government to help achieve these goals and fight climate change," said Kennel.

While dock-less bike sharing brings convenience to urban commuters, new problems have emerged, such as irregular parking in public space and bikes being stolen or vandalized.

The Paris authorities are mulling a plan for all dock-less bike operators, including imposing a new tax for "occupying public space for commercial purposes."

In response, Kennel said Ofo would cooperate with the government, and had already established its own system to detect and punish those who park thoughtlessly after using the bikes.

Ofo's co-founder Zhang Yanqi told Xinhua that the company was planning to scale up its service in France.

"France is the 20th country where our company is present," he said. "In Paris, our target is to reach 10,000 bikes, and we will soon launch our service in four other French cities."

Ofo currently operates over 10 million dock-less bikes worldwide, with over 200 million users and 32 million daily transactions, according to the company.

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