Why are ofo bikes disappearing from the streets?

Bicycles in yellow, bright orange or blue are found all over China’s most populous cities. ofo, one of the leading bike-sharing startups, has placed 2.2 million bikes in 43 cities, according to the company.

While riders enjoy this convenient mode of transportation, vandals are making an all-out effort to keep the two-wheelers for themselves or even sell them illegally.

On some online secondhand sales apps in China, some “bike thieves” are selling bikes they have looted by scraping the QR code plates attached to the bikes and installing their own locks, The Beijing News reported.

This is what AllChinaTech found on a popular online secondhand dealer marketplace “Xianyu.” The user put up a post selling bikes of multiple China bike-sharing companies including ofo, Mobike and Bluegogo.

The user put up a post selling looted bikes on Xianyu. (Screenshot from Xianyu)

“Deposit-free Mobike and ofo bikes. Deposits amounting to hundreds of yuan not needed,” reads the description that the seller put up. “Private message me and talk on WeChat if interested,” the seller stressed in the post.

We reached out to this seller, but did not get a response. Even though the “report” feature is available on these online marketplaces, it is still tough to prevent this kind of illegal misconducts.

This is just a glimpse of the severe issues that ofo has to tackle. AllChinaTech earlier visited an ofo’s repair spot in Beijing and found an overwhelming amount of vandalized and broken bikes waiting to be repaired.

Broken bikes are piled up in the “ofo bike graveyard.” (Photo by Timmy Shen/AllChinaTech)
Broken bikes are piled up in an ofo’s repair spot in a remote Beijing area. (Photo by Timmy Shen/AllChinaTech)

Although bikes are constantly disappearing from streets, ofo does not hesitate to place more bikes in major cities worldwide. So are its competitors.

The dockless bike-sharing companies are eyeing expansions into the United States, and will soon bring their bikes to New York City. The companies are going to offer similar cheap services to New Yorkers, charging USD one dollar or less for a half-hour ride.

The expansion has forced local bike-sharing services and its supporters on the defensive. New York City has seen a steady user base with Citi Bike, the city-operated bike-sharing system that requires users to park at designated stations, and the city council has called for a USD 12 million handout to Citi Bike to expand its services to more boroughs.

Meanwhile, on the west coast of the United States, Seattle last month put the brakes on the city-funded Pronto, a bike-sharing system similar to that in New York City. Once owned by a nonprofit, Pronto was bought by the city in March 2016 for USD 1.4 million. However, it turned out that the bike-sharing system can’t beat the hilly and rainy city with few bikeways. The city announced earlier this year that Pronto was about to close for good after ridership lagged.

While China’s stationless bike-sharing companies are about to make a splash on American soil, they have to come up with better plans to prevent vandalism and possible parking chaos. Westerners certainly don’t want to see another “bike graveyard” in their countries.

(Top photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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