Dockless bike sharing services have become such a fixture of the streets of China’s cities that municipal governments are finally taking steps to rein in the most egregious aspects of anti-social behavior by inconsiderate users who simply leave their contraption anywhere when they have reached their destination. Judging by some of the sights I came across during my recent trip to Shanghai and Beijing, they are starting to make some progress – but they still have some way to go before they take back the streets.
Unlike bike services rolled out in other major cities throughout the world, the ones in China were set up by private enterprises for profit rather than city authorities aiming to reduce traffic pollution and promote healthy living. Because there were no specific regulations in place, these companies were able to adopt a freewheeling (sorry, I couldn’t resist that) approach to how they developed their business. Not having to worry about the need to create and maintain docking spaces for their bikes, for example, not only led to reduced market entry costs but also made the service more convenient for users because they could leave rented iron steed just about anywhere when they reached their destination.
Perhaps unwittingly, therefore, this light-touch approach to innovation enabled the market to grow much faster than would have been possible if the city governments had been responsible for rolling out the services themselves. Despite the inevitable abuses, it has also made it a lot more convenient for China’s massive urban populations to get around their crowded and congested cities and led to the creation of a huge new industry.
With Mobike set to roll out a similar service in Manchester, UK, at the end of June, it’s going to fascinating to see how the dockless bike sharing model fares overseas. I just hope that there will be room left on the streets for pedestrians like me.