Beijing is a city that offers a high quality of life. Even with its 25 million inhabitants, it's a rather easy city to live in. We have wide avenues, parks, shopping malls galore, plenty of historical sights, a huge, clean and well-functioning subway system, an uncountable number of restaurants and finally, Beijing also happens to be a cyclist-friendly city!
Cycling plays an important role in the Chinese culture and society - and being able to go everywhere by bike was one of the things I was really excited about we moved here. However, my enthusiasm faded slightly as I started to notice that I mostly got surpassed on the bike lane by electric scooters (boy are they silent and easy to crash into!). But it turned out that the come-back of the old-fashioned bicycle was just around the corner. In the summer of 2016, the city became coloured in orange. Sharing bike company Mobike put their first bikes on the pavements of Shanghai in April of 2016 and Beijing followed suit a couple of months later. Mobike still seems to have the biggest market share but there are dozens of other companies (characterised by different colours of bikes). Shared bikes are a major hit in China - and by the end of 2017 there were 50 million users across the country. So what's the problem?
Scan, pedal, ditch
Common for the providers is that the bikes don't have docking stations. Users simply scan the QR code that is stuck behind the saddle and the bike unlocks. After you use a shared bike, you just leave it where ever you want. 非常方便 - very convenient. But this convenience is causing a major problem, not only in Beijing but all over China. Shared bikes are everywhere! On the pavement, in the streets, in open parking lots and even on the highway. They block the pedestrian crossings and absurdly enough, it is becoming more and more difficult to find a parking space for my normal, old-fashioned Dutch bike.
The shared bike companies are doing what they can to keep the streets neat and free from layers, even mountains of shared bikes. Several times a day, I see lorries that pick up, re-arrange or add shared bikes. I took this picture down the road from us yesterday.
But what happens to the bikes that are removed from the streets? Despite being so young, shared bikes in China are already being put to rest in massgraves around the county. This is a picture of a pile of shared bikes in Xiamen in the Fujian Province.
While one must not forget the benefits of shared bikes (such as less pollution and congestion and more physical exercise) it seems like authorities have lost control of the situation and manufacturers are failing to realise that the market is already saturated.