Echoes of Austin: #Chinatech – Smartbikes Solve Congestion and Pollution

Echoes of Austin: #Chinatech – Smartbikes Solve Congestion and Pollution

Mobike is a red-hot startup that’s revolutionised bicycle transport in China. Amsterdam has it’s iconic Oma-fiets, London it’s Boris Bikes but Mobike is the world’s first smart bike-sharing company. 

It’s mission is to bring more bikes to more cities, using its tech to make cycling the most convenient and environmentally-friendly transport for urban residents.

The bikes are specially designed, equipped with GPS and lock technology that freezes the wheels and sounds a loud alarm if the bike is moved. A rider sources a Mobike via the app, Scans a QR code to unlock, rides away.

At their destination the bike is locked via the app and left wherever it stands. Any nearby Mobiker can unlock the bike via their smartphone. Now in its eighth generation, the bicycles are stylish and robust, no chains or rust so modest maintenance costs.

The service launched in Shanghai in April 2016 and is now in 30 cities across China with plans to expand internationally. Mobike’s founder and president is Weiwei Hu. She started the company in 2015 to encourage people to cycle short distances rather than drive.

Bicycle sharing services are primed to be a major focus for China’s start-up scene this year, particularly following Mobike’s $215 million funding in January 2017. After only one year of operation there are 150 million Mobike’s and more than 10 million users.

Hu’s idea was inspired by frustration of not being able to pick up a public bike in Hangzhou, but Mobike is more than just convenience for tourists. Mobike could contribute to solving pollution in major cities.  

There are also other culturally significant findings. Hu explains: “In the 30 cities we operate, our bikes are ridden 24 hours a day.  In Shenzhen I was surprised to find that at 3am, 4am and 5am there are so many in use.

It is workers such as cleaners, bar staff and construction workers, or some people who need to go to work very early in the morning. They use our bicycles because they may have to wait for a long time for public transport, or a taxi is too extravagant. Mobikes provide them with a very convenient and simple mode of travel.

In 1980s China, bicycles accounted for more than 60% of the total traffic travel but three decades later there are more than 200 million cars, and bicycle use has fallen to about 10%. Could it go full circle? If we can get people out of cars and onto a Mobike, perhaps.

Mark Terry-Lush
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