Can Chinese bike sharing startups beat down the fraudsters and vandals?

Bike sharing, needless to say, means the sharing of bikes. In China, the bike sharing business model, hot as it is, seems to be kept from serving its purpose, as bikes are being damaged, stolen, or used for scamming money.

Take a walk on the street, and you may see bikes of various colors for sharing: the orange and white Mobike, the yellow Ofo, the blue Unibike, and the green Quick To… Yet be aware when you pay! Since most bike-sharing services are paid via scanning a QR code pasted on the bike, it is possible that the QR code is a trap set by fraudsters.

For example, payment for using a Mobike, which landed USD 100 million financing in late September, is supposed to be completed with the Mobike app, but for first timers who aren’t aware of this, it might be tempting to just use WeChat to scan whichever QR code is most immediately visible on the bike. Unfortunately, there is a possibility that the QR code is a trap, leading to a WeChat money transfer that is totally unconnected to Mobike.

However, the most serious problem that bike sharing companies must face is the damaging of bikes. According to the Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News, at least 2,000 of the total number of 20,000 Mobikes in Guangzhou have been damaged to varying degrees.

A lot of man-made damage was done to the QR codes – some used sprays to cover them, some even use lighters to burn them. In addition, bike chains, tires, and back plates are other parts that have suffered damage.

Zhao Jianping, manager of Mobike in Guangzhou, told Yangcheng Evening News that the average cost of a Mobike reaches RMB 3,000 (USD 435), because Mobikes are designed to be resistant to daily problems of wear and tear. Yet however damage-resistant a bike may be, it will remain vulnerable to a vandal with no sense of public morality.

Another big problem is the violation of parking rules, which has given birth to an “occupation” – the bike hunter. Mobikes run with credits: 100 credits to start with, and any violation of parking rules, like parking bikes at places other than on public roadsides, will result in the deduction of one credit. When a user’s credit is below 80, using a Mobike would no longer cost RMB 1, but RMB 100 for 30 minutes. What bike hunters do is look for Mobikes that are improperly parked and report to Mobike via the app, to earn one credit of his or her own.

Xiao Yueyue, who started working part-time as a bike hunter in late August, has now earned 923 credits. “Bike hunters must go through an internship as well, and we have welcomed participants aged between 20 and 50, from all walks of life.”

While bike hunters can spot bikes parked in a building, they cannot trace the ones parked at someone’s home – which might indicate an intent to steal. Police on Monday found one Mobike and four Ofo bikes, all brand new, in a bungalow in the Changping district in the outskirts of Beijing, Yangcheng Evening News reported.

A point must be made clear: “bike sharing” does not have other implications aside from “the sharing of bikes”.

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