IS “UBER FOR BICYCLES” SUSTAINABLE LONG-TERM?

Bike-sharing is all the rage in Asia now but will it be able to overcome all its teething problems?

Text by Jan Yong

Recently in Guangzhou, I noticed a lot of commuters cycling on the streets. The city’s bus and subway fares are already very cheap (for example, they are cheaper than in Malaysia), so why the bicycles? Simply because it’s a very convenient form of first and last mile transportation – and is even cheaper than the bus or subway, a young rider told me.

All you need to get started is to download the app, deposit money online into your account in the app, book a bike at a location near you (the app will show you the location), scan the QR code on the bike to unlock the bike, and you are on your way. You can drop off the bike at any of the widely distributed bike stations or designated bike parking areas in the city. When you lock the bike, it will trigger an automatic online payment. It only costs RMB1 for one hour in Guangzhou. No wonder it’s popular.

Recent reports indicate that hundreds of millions, almost USD1 billion have been poured into China’s top two bike-sharing apps, Ofo and Mobike. The most recent was USD450 mil injected into Ofo, making it the first bike-sharing company worth more than a billion US dollars (USD2 bil to be more precise) and the world’s biggest bike-sharing platform.

According to reports, Ofo claims to have more than 30 mil users spread across China, Singapore and the UK. Founded in 2014, Ofo now has a strong footprint in 40 cities in China and reportedly owns 1,000 bikes in Singapore and 500 in London and Cambridge. A trial is currently being conducted in the US and it plans to expand to over 20 countries by the end of this year, including Japan, Spain, France, Germany and the Philippines.

Its nearest Chinese competitor, Shanghai-based Mobike claims to have tens of millions of users, and more than 3.65 mil bikes with an average of over 20 million rides every day. It also has global ambitions with its first foray outside of China being Singapore – in March this year. Its CEO Davis Wang was recently quoted to have said Mobike is also a ‘unicorn’ – a start-up valued at over USD1 bil.

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