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A symbol of China’s past, the bicycle is making a modern comeback in the form of bike sharing or an ‘Uber for bikes’ if you’d like to call it that.
Amidst the heavy traffic and pollution issues that the large cities face, bike sharing platforms such as Ofo (with its distinct yellow theme), started by students from Peking University and the Shanghai based Mobike (with its distinct orange theme) – its costlier competitor founded by an ex Uber executive, are becoming more and more popular as traffic woes steadily increase.
Not to mention the attention that they would get from environmentally sensitive individuals and fitness enthusiasts.
Ofo, the cheaper of the two platforms targets students – with rates as low as 7 U.S cents an hour and USD 13 deposits, with Mobike on the other hand having a nearly $50 deposit.
The good news is that large corporations are also now interested in this technology and are injecting large amounts of cash to make these platforms more mainstream.
China’s largest ride hailing system Didi Chuxing recently acquired Uber’s Chinese division together consolidating into a $35 billion giant, and now its been investing into Ofo. Ofo has received investments from smartphone maker Xiaomi as well.
Its possible that Didi Chuxing’s service will in the coming time feature an Ofo option where users can start hailing bicycles.
The edge that these companies possess is that you can use the bike and leave it wherever your journey ends – instead of having to mandatorily return it to bike stations.
The nagging issues that these platforms might face – should these services really take off and start attracting tons of users, is bike users that park bikes off limit, theft, bike maintenance, maybe even insurance.
Along with that governmental regulations which are a grey area yet, might start kicking in and change the business is usually done.
On top of that since the bikes can be picked up and left anywhere, the question is whether the cities’ infrastructure supports this form of usage.
Although its clear that bike sharing is becoming more and more popular, chances are that this model could spread overseas as well.
A service like this could become very popular in countries that face similar traffic and congestion issues. The potential is huge – think about a location you wanted to go to that was too far to walk, yet going there by car would take you too long because of traffic or maybe taking your car would become more of a hassle than a convenience. You could simply order a bike, get in a little exercise and then leave it and go about your business.
But again they might face the same issues talked about above, if not more.
In ways this is what could be termed as ‘angel’ technology – it really does no harm to the environment, in fact it helps it if usage is high enough; it offers a healthy mode of transport to its users, and its really cheap. The technology offers more than it takes.
Chances are that once Ofo and Mobike start reaching a peak and begin attracting mass customers, they might soon start seeing their model replicated or even improved upon in other countries. It might begin to spread into neighbouring Asian countries – India for example.
There’s a while to go before any of that really happens, but there seem to be high hopes for Ofo and Mobike. Whether they can breakoff and become mainstream, only time can tell.
Investors have already laid the grounds for the platforms to start making it big, as long as they manage to execute their ideas successfully they might as well become the next big thing in transportation.
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Source – The Wall Street Journal
Image source – Tech in Asia