As a national guideline calls for strict penalties for improperly parked shared bicycles, companies are turning to positioning technology for solutions.
The booming industry also brings problems like bikes scattered across sidewalks and irresponsible bike riding. To address the problems, the central government released a guideline on Aug 3 urging city governments to set up parking zones for the bikes and strict punishment for misbehavior on bikes.
Shared bike companies are cooperating with the government by promoting "smart" parking zones for the bikes.
Smart parking zones allow the company to see if the bike is properly parked through ultra-accurate positioning information provided by a Compass Navigation Satellite System or Bluetooth sensors embedded at the parking sites.
Shared bike companies like Ofo rely mainly on CNSS, whereas Mobike and Ming-Bikes combine CNSS and Bluetooth. Improper parking of bikes may cause the locking mechanism to fail which in turn would raise the user's expense.
MingBikes first tried out smart parking sites in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in March. The company identified potential sites in Zengcheng district and applied to the city government to set up the zones. It initially set up 120 parking sites and now has 250.
Users are unable to lock improperly parked MingBikes and the billing continues until it reaches an additional 2 yuan (30 US cents). Also, the user can lose some of the credits received upon starting a Ming-Bikes account, which could ultimately cause the account to be blocked.
The MingBikes app shows on a map the distance to the nearest parking site and warns the bike users of potential penalties for improper parking.
The idea of spreading smart parking zones across Beijing has met with mixed responses.
A foreigner near the capital's Sanlitun area who identified himself as Paul said everyone benefits when the bikes are parked in "proper, decent places".
"The footpath has been taken over by these bikes, and this is forcing pedestrians to use the streets," he said.
Zhou Puyu, 33, voiced concern that smart parking sites, which she compared to the docking sites of the old government run system, could make shared bikes less convenient.
"Shared bikes are more successful than the old (government-run) system, which requires users to leave bikes at docking stations, because you can park them almost anywhere. If people waste lots of time searching for parking sites that goes against what makes shared bikes so popular," Zhou said.