Bike sharing is booming, with new services popping up on sideways all across the world. Most recently, the Asian tech-enterprise Alibaba invested 866 million dollars in the bike sharing startup Ofo. The amount of rentable bikes is growing by the day and in many cities the bicycle fleets are becoming bigger and bigger.
By now, bikes can be found all over the modern metropolis. They are a flexible and easy alternative to public transportation or cars, a fast way to get around in big cities, environmentally friendly, and offer up daily exercise that doesn’t involve the gym. Long story short: Bike sharing solely offers benefits. Or does it?
Bike Sharing Services Are Struggling in Many Cities
They were hanging from trees and floating in the Isar river; saddles were ripped, brake cables cut, and frames demolished… This is just a short summary of the obstacles rentable bikes in Munich were facing. The situation became so dire for the service provider Obike that they announced the collection of 6000 out of their fleet of 6800 bikes in Munich and plans for redistribution in other German cities. These problems aren’t exclusive to Bavaria’s capital either. According to the service provider Gobbe, 60% of its fleet in Paris was destroyed – within four months. In China thousands of unused bikes are piling up on sidewalks and empty parking lots, or simply discarded in fields as competitors are weeded out and overcapacity at launch becomes unsustainable.
This vandalism and the irresponsable handling of the bikes as well as the meteoric growth of the industry are causing problems for the bike sharing services. In many places, the offer of rentable bikes has outgrown the demand at an accelerated pace. Obike for example launched its service in Munich more or less over night. Suddenly, thousands of bikes were flooding the city; many inhabitants were left confused. Obike’s problem: Their bikes were of substandard quality and blocking the way in many places, even leading to the trending hashtag #sadobikes on social media.
The Need For Bike Sharing
The mentioned benefits of bike sharing remain a great drawing point for the continued rise of such services. Politicians and consumers are convinced of the concept. There is a need for bike sharing as more people move to cities and infrastructures adapt to more environmentally friendly ways of moving around. Cities are integrating lower emissions and combating air pollution it into their concepts, as well as attempting to reduce traffic volume. The city of Munich has confirmed that they want to buy 2000 new bikes in 2018, despite Obike’s recent decision to reduce its service drastically in Munich.
Bike sharing per se was and is not the problem. The problem was the aggressive growth of many service providers, which resulted in too many bikes (additionally of subpar quality) competing for a demand that did not yet exist. The cities were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of rentable bikes, blocking pathways in already crowded cities.
The industry will continue to grow. Bike sharing will remain a useful and used service. But in the future, it will adjust its offer more to the existing need, rather than expecting an increasing demand beforehand.
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