Combating vandalism: Hellobike vs. Lime and Bird

The global bike-sharing business has taken off in recent years with the emergence of China’s Hellobike and Mobike and Silicon Valley’s Lime and Bird. However, these booming bike-sharing services face several challenges, the most serious of which is vandalism. Hellobike stands out as one company successfully combating this threat, as its bike vandalism rate has reportedly fallen 37% in 2019. What’s Hellobike’s secret?

Vandalism problems abroad

Vandalism is a major problem for the bike-sharing industry and it poses challenges to companies across the globe. Lime and Bird are two of the most popular bike and e-scooter-sharing companies in the United States, raising millions of dollars since 2017. Their main products, dockless e-scooters, have won favor among urban travelers, enabling Lime and Bird to expand their scooter-sharing services to over 100 cities worldwide. 

But e-scooters across the globe have been vandalized. E-scooters from both Lime and Bird have been “stolen, burned, and tossed in lakes,” according to the The Guardian, which reported that Lime scooters were thrown into Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. An Instagram account named “birdgraveyard” has documented all sorts of scooter vandalism, including videos of the scooters on fire. 

As new entrants in the ride-sharing business, Lime and Bird’s setbacks in tackling vandalism and managing their operations and maintenance have been exposed. First of all, the designs of their scooters do not effectively prevent vandalism. Their locks are easy to break open and the tires are fragile. Secondly, the companies could not find the saboteurs and bring them to court. There’s no system for managing users’ behaviors. Third, the two companies cannot efficiently operate or maintain their scooter fleets, and many of their vehicles have been abandoned.

Both Lime and Bird have stated they have zero tolerance policies regarding vandalism and have encouraged people to report people who have damaged scooters. However, these actions have not solved the problem. Recently, Bird launched a new scooter model designed to thwart vandalism. It adopted autonomous damage sensors, anti-theft encryption, and puncture-proof tyres. The jury is still out on whether these innovations will deter people from destroying scooters.

Photo from ATA team

Vandalism problems in China

Despite that China’s ride-sharing companies have faced similar vandalism challenges to western companies, the issue is much more significant, as there might be 100 or more times as many bikes in Chinese cities than western cities. For example Hellobike received a permit to operate as many as 120,000 bikes in Guangzhou. Given bike density and ride frequency, operating the bikes requires an effective system and advanced technology to handle vandalism. Founded in 2016, Hellobike has become China’s leading transportation company. It had 280 million registered users as of September 17, 2019. The company has successfully deployed its bikes to more than 360 cities and electric bikes to 260 cities across China. 

Sometimes when users locate shared bikes, they are disappointed to find them already damaged or broken. The shared bikes are often defaced with advertisements or profane stickers. Some bikes’ QR codes have been scratched off, making it impossible for people to unlock them. Moreover, shared bikes are easy to steal and hide, and some people destroy the locks and replace them with their own their private locks. According to a report from China Industry Information, 52.9% of shared bike users were aware of acts of vandalism. 

The frequent occurrence of vandalism has resulted in high maintenance costs and profit losses. Vandalism is a challenge not only for private companies, but also for government regulators and customers. To protect their businesses, companies urgently need to enforce some measurements to prevent vandalism.

Hellobike’s strategy to combat bike destruction

Hellobike is leading the industry in the battle against vandalism. After a year’s trial of its user credit system, the company saw its bike damage rate fall by 37% YoY by March. In some cities that has the best managing effect, the damage rate is down more than 60%. According to a report on China’s bike-sharing business in 2019 by research firm Analysys, Hellobike’s fleet has suffered the least damage and has among the lowest fault and highest riding rates.

Hellobike has built up a credit system to evaluate users’ behaviors to improve the operation and maintenance of its bikes. With “Hello Brain,” the company’s smart big data system, Hellobike is able to monitor users’ riding habits and behaviors. Based on the reports from the system, Hellobike evaluates whether users comply with or violate its service agreement. For example, if a user uses the same bike many days in a row, the system will conclude that the bike has been stolen.

Then, Hellobike’s credit system can mete out penalties and incentives to the users accordingly. For riders who follow the rules and report damage to the bikes, Hellobike will improve their credit, and they can enjoy bonus rides and other rewards. However, for users who violate the service agreement by damaging bikes, stealing bikes, or violating traffic rules, the bike-sharing platform will decrease their credit. Those who have lower credit scores may face different penalties such as losing special offers, paying higher riding fees, and having their accounts frozen or even deleted. After the launch of the credit system, Hellobike has given out warnings to over 30,000 users.

 Moreover, the company has developed a smart lock for the bikes equipped with bluetooth, wifi hotspots, smart self-diagnosis capabilities, and other functions. The technological advances of the smart lock help the company track the damage to its bikes, locate them, and improve maintenance efficiency. For example, the maintenance person can use the bluetooth detection function to figure out whether there is a faulty bike within 20m, and can even command the bike to make a ringing sound in order to locate it. The self-diagnosis function works when the bike performs a smart self-test and reports the results to a server which then dispatches maintenance workers to fix it.

In the battle against vandalism, Hellobike has made efforts to increase the usage of bikes. Combating the vandalism problem means making more bikes available for consumers, and thus more profits. The game is on. 

(Top photo from Google image)

Simin Li

Simin writes for us, by focusing on tech and financing news in Asia. She’s also interested in politics, cyber culture, and new media. She has experiences contributing to Reuters and the Wall Street Journal Chinese Edition. She is studying English Language and Literature at Renmin University of China.

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