For all the buzz that the bike-sharing concept gets, the ill-treatment of these bikes gets just as much attention.
Because people are terrible.
China’s Ofo, which has become the first bike-sharing start-up to raise over $1 billion in funding, bears a huge brunt of that burden.
Thousands of its bikes have been thrown in piles, found in rivers or locked up behind fences; some by mean-spirited vandals, others by people meaning to hog the bikes for themselves. You’re supposed to ride a bike and leave it by the street corner for the next person, but some bring the bikes into their compounds, intending to keep it as a private ride.
For that, Ofo has a solution: more bikes.
In an interview with Mashable, its founder, 25-year-old Dai Wei, and VP of Ofo’s U.S. unit, Grace Lin, revealed that the company is dealing with users mistreating its bikes in China by flooding cities with shared bikes.
The idea is to have users realise that the bikes are a common commodity, and that they don’t need to hog them because the next one is readily available, said Lin.
“When there are so many convenient bikes that you can use, you don’t really think they’re like something that is private property you want to occupy or damage,” Lin said.
Ofo also claims that less than 1 percent of its bikes gets damaged. But with over a million bikes in China already, less than 1 percent is enough to make the news, she added.
Ofo coming to your city
In China, Ofo tussles with another 30-odd bike-sharing competitors in the hot market.
And it’s already got its eye on global domination. It plans to be in 10 countries by the end of 2017, Dai said.
In Singapore, where it’s launched its first service outside of China, Ofo has already placed 1,000 bikes in the city, with plans to increase that number.
Meanwhile, it’s trialing projects in the London area, and also in San Diego, California.
But its game plan of flooding cities with bikes isn’t likely to please city officials. In San Francisco, regulators had to propose measures to curb bike-sharing companies from placing bikes all over street corners.
And back home, Chinese officials in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Chengdu have also issued similar orders, resulting in thousands of bikes impounded as government workers grapple to clear the streets of these bikes.
Dai said Ofo plans to avoid conflict with regulators by expanding gradually, instead of laying out thousands of bikes at once.
The company aims to introduce 50,000 bicycles in the U.S. by the end of this year.
The company could also potentially look forward to better user behaviour outside of China.
“People in America and Singapore have better habits in bicycle usage — [they] always want to park the bikes in the right place,” Dai observed. “It is much easier to expand our service in such countries.”
Besides, Ofo was never meant to be China-only, he added. The company doesn’t have a Chinese name, because he had envisioned its yellow bikes all over busy cities in the world from the start, Dai said.