Bike-sharing revolution aims to set China back on two wheels

From Shanghai to Sichuan, strategies are being rolled out to slash congestion, cut air pollution and spin a profit

Even through Beijings nicotine-tinged smog you can make out the multi-coloured frames, gliding through the pea soup towards a greener future.

In recent months an unmissable fleet of fluorescent orange, canary yellow and ocean blue bicycles has hit the street of urban China as part of a hi-tech bike-sharing boom that entrepreneurs hope will induce them rich while simultaneously transforming the countrys traffic-clogged cities.

We want to solve problems by get bikes back on to the streets of our cities, told Li Zekun, the 25 -year-old marketing director of Ofo, one of the startups spearheading this 21 st-century transport revolution.

From Shanghai to Sichuan province, bike-sharing strategies are being rolled out on an unprecedented scale in its endeavour to slash congestion and air pollution by putting a country once known as the Kingdom of Bicycles back on two wheels.

Ofo, so named because of the words resemblance to a bicycle, has put about 250,000 of its bright yellow bikes to run since late 2015, of which around 40,000 -5 0,000 are in the capital, according to Li.

A Chinese female rides one of Ofos yellow bikes in Beijing. Photograph: Wu Hong/ EPA

The Peking University biology graduate said his company, which was founded by five students looking to improve transport alternatives on university campuses, had attracted about 3 million users in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen and Guangzhou. Its bicycles make about 1.5 m trips each day between them.

For short journey, motorcycles are the best form of transport, Li enthused at Ofos headquarters in the Internet Finance Centre, a 26 -floor building in western Beijing. You never know when a bus might arrive. It might not be easy to find a taxi. Walking might take you too long and tire you out.

Other startups, such as Mobike and Bluegogo, are seeking to get in on the act, depositing truckloads of bicycles on sidewalks and street corners across China.

Li Gang, Bluegogos 28 -year-old chief executive, said he believed bike sharing would bring mental pleasure to millions of Chinese citizens as well as boosting their health and fitness levels.

It was his mission to enable everyone to enjoy the happiness of motorcycle riding, he said.

I predict that by next year millions of people is likely to be riding motorcycles in Beijing every day, said the entrepreneur, whose firm has 50,000 motorcycles spread across three cities Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shenzhen and plans to expand to a new city every fortnight.

More people will choose this healthy way to get around so the number of cars on the roads will decrease dramatically and this will really help the climate and the environment, he told.

Bluegogo bicycles in the company office in Shenzhen. Photo: Reuters

In the years following Mao Zedongs 1949 communist takeover, bikes ruled supreme in China and the Flying Pigeon the eastern equivalent of the Raleigh Roadster became one of the countrys most recognisable symbols.

But two-wheeled traveling began to go out of fashion as China became more open to the world, ushering in decades of economic boom and a high demand for autoes.

In 1980, virtually 63% of passengers cycled to work, the Beijing Morning Post reported last year, citing government data. But by 2000 that number had plummeted to 38% and today it stands at less than 12%.

Car use, meanwhile, has rocketed. In 2010 China overtook the US to become the worlds largest vehicle marketplace, with 13.5 m vehicles sold in simply 12 months. This year, producers expect to sell almost 23 m passenger cars.

That jump from two to four wheels has been music to the ears of international “manufacturers “, but it has resulted in gridlock and contributed to a pollution crisis experts blame for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths every year.

According to state media, Beijing has 5.65 m registered vehicles which annually pump 500,000 tonnes of pollutants into the atmosphere. And with China now waging a high-profile war on pollution, cities hope a return to the era of the bicycle can help them clean up at least some of the smog. Transport officials in Beijing are aiming to get 18% of passengers riding to run by 2020.

Public bike-sharing strategies, of which there are more than 500 around the world, have existed in China for about a decade but the scale on which these private initiatives are being rolled out is unprecedented.

Reports in the Chinese media indicate hundreds of thousands of shared motorcycles have been put into action. That compares with 11,500 operating in the British capital, according to Transport for London.

The other factor making Chinas bike-sharing boom stand out is the technology.

While those sharing motorcycles in cities such as London must pick them up and park them at docking stations, tracking technology means Chinese users to be able to collect and park their motorcycles wherever they please.

Mobikes orange-wheeled motorcycles have a GPS system that allows users to locate them employing a map on the companys smartphone app.

A rank of Mobikes in Beijing. Photograph: Tom Phillips for the Guardian

Users of Ofos yellow bikes, which expense about 10 p to utilize, unlock them using a combination code sent through its app, and the company maintains tabs on its motorcycles by monitoring the locating of the users smartphones.

It is very convenient, told Li, who claims an Ofo bike can be ready to ride in about 10 seconds.

Chinese investors, including the tech giants Didi Chuxing and Tencent, are throwing their weight behind the bike-sharing startups, pumping tens of millions of pounds into their operations since the autumn.

A recent story about the budding industry in the China Daily warned of grave maintenance and management challenges and the existence of unscrupulous users who injury or disappeared with the bikes. Recent weeks have watched reports of stolen bicycles, which are worth up to 3,000 yuan( 350 ), being sold online.

But the China Daily advised commuters and city officials to embrace the attempt to reinvigorate the nations love affair with the bike.

Li said his company believed so strongly in a global cycling renaissance that it planned to export its bike-sharing revolution to London, Singapore and Los Angeles.

In the future, we hope people all over the world will be using Ofos app to unlock its bikes, anywhere and at anytime, he told.

Additional reporting by Christy Yao

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