China’s top bike-sharing company cycles into London

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China’s top bike-sharing company Mobike is pedalling into London with its dockless, GPS-enabled bicycles.

The “smart” bikes, whose wheels can be locked anywhere and unlocked using a smartphone app, will arrive in the west London borough of Ealing in September, Mobike announced on Monday.

The company plans to start with 750 bicycles and increase that number to meet demand.

“We’re committed to working closely with Ealing and other boroughs to make Mobike, and bike-sharing as a whole, a successful experience for Londoners,” said Steve Pyer, UK general manager for Mobike.

Mobike is not the only Asian bike-sharing company with its eye on London’s keen cyclists. Earlier this month, Singapore-based start-up oBike rolled out 400 dockless cycles in east London.

The companies are hoping to attract cyclists away from the city’s public hire scheme, which has proven popular since its launch seven years ago. Santander Cycles — more commonly known as “Boris bikes” after the mayor of London at the time — are more expensive and require riders to find empty docking stations when they are finished.

To use Mobike bicycles, a QR code printed on the bike is scanned using a smartphone app. The app then sends a signal to the bike via Bluetooth, and to the Mobike servers via the internet, which unlocks the bike and registers the start of the user’s journey.

At the end of the ride, the bike is manually locked by closing the rear wheel lock, which sends a signal to the Mobike servers saying that the journey has ended.

Cycling has become an increasingly common mode of transport in London, where successive local governments have invested heavily in cycle lanes and infrastructure. In 2015, official data show a 10.3 per cent increase in cycle journeys to 670,000 in the city.

Mobike has been at the forefront of a bike-sharing craze that has taken Chinese cities by storm, placing more than 3.65m bikes and providing more than 20m daily rides as of April, according to the company.

It has raised more than $1bn to date from international investors, including Singapore’s Temasek, China’s Tencent and US-based Warburg Pincus.

Mobike first entered the UK in June via the city of Manchester, where they are available to rent for 50p for 30 minutes. It has ambitions to expand further outside China, and has already launched in Singapore and Italy.

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Mobike’s distinctive orange-rimmed bikes are GPS-tracked and can be located using the smartphone app, which also sends the company data from its users’ rides.

Councillor Bassam Mahfouz, cabinet member for transport, environment and leisure at Ealing Council, said: “We want more people to cycle in Ealing . . .[Mobike’s launch] is another way of helping people who want to give it a go, but are put off by the upfront expense of buying a bike or by lack of storage.”

However, like their private equivalents, shared bicycles have been beset by theft and vandalism in China as well as in Manchester, where local media reported Mobikes being stolen and turned into private-use bikes.

Some have also complained that undocked bikes are a nuisance. When oBike bicycles turned up in the west London borough of Hammersmith & Fulham this year, the council warned the group that it was “a bit concerned about the places you’ve left many of your bikes”.

Since the bikes are unlocked by scanning a QR code printed on them, scratching off the code means the next would-be rider can no longer unlock the bicycle. Vandals have also tried to disable the GPS trackers on the bikes.