Sieren′s China: Clamping down on shared bikes | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 04.05.2017
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Sieren's China: Clamping down on shared bikes

The dream of a bicycle renaissance in Beijing could be coming to an end. There are already enough bikes on the streets and the government is about to introduce a cap.

It didn't take long for things to go wrong. Shared bikes have already been getting on the nerves of the population and now the authorities are clamping down. The chaos simply grew and grew.

There were just a few of the colorful bicycles sponsored by start-up companies standing around to begin with, but soon they began piling up intersections and near subway station entrances.

Special units have now been deployed to go around at night to sort them out and park them in a more orderly fashion, but it is a never-ending process.

Tough competition

About a year ago, Chinese start-ups like Mobike, Ofo and blue gogo, financed by tech giants, launched a bit of a revolution when they started placing cheap rental bikes on the streets that could be used very easily via smart phone apps.

Frank Sieren *PROVISORISCH* (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tirl)

DW's Frank Sieren

Since it only costs the equivalent of 60 euro cents to use them for half an hour, they were an immediate hit with the urban populations of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. People sick of getting stuck in daily traffic jams used the bikes to get home from the office or their nearest subway station. They can zoom past the cars even in rush hour.

Over 30 percent of the people in Beijing are now using rental bikes. This is not only good for health but also for the environment.

The flipside is the amount of bikes that are on the streets. There are 700,000 in Beijing alone. Eleven million residents have registered for bike sharing programs. Over 7 million bikes are used daily and the start-ups are still trying to get more users by offering discounts, since they all want a monopoly of the shared bike market, which is as competitive as the car-sharing market.

In February, Mobike - whose bicycles are silver and orange - raked upwards of $300 million (270 million euros) from investors and is now worth over $1 billion. Ofo's yellow bicycles received a capital injection of $450 million.

China Bike Sharing (picture-alliance/Imaginechina/Z. Bixiong)

The piles of bikes, as seen here near Xiashan-Park in Shenzhen city, have angered many urban Chinese

Rules and regulations

Beijing's 13th five-year plan for the time from 2016 to 2020 includes the building of bike paths and footpaths. But many Beijing residents - not only car drivers - have become increasingly angry about the rental bikes. Pedestrians are upset that the bikes get left on the footpaths. Car drivers are annoyed that they have to slow down if they get stuck behind a cyclist. Cyclists themselves are angry that the bikes are often broken or that other users lock them up so as to ensure that they do not have to seek a free bike after work.

Vandalism is common. Pictures of mountains of rental bikes have gone viral. Moreover, rules and regulations seem to be a gray area.

The authorities have been observing the developments but had not take action until now. In May, they are expected to set a cap for the amount of bicycles on the streets. They will also introduce better safety standards. So far, these are rather tame - the bikes will have to be equipped with GPS devices which make clear where they cannot be parked. The companies will also have to take out insurance. Children under the age of 12 will no longer be allowed to use the bikes - the app for the bikes is so simple that anyone can use one as long as they have a smart phone.

DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.

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