Mobike, Ofo race for dominance in UK

China Plus Published: 2017-07-20 09:20:07
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The undated photo shows a user riding a Mobike on a street of Manchester, Britain. [Photo:VCG]

The undated photo shows a user riding a Mobike on a street of Manchester, Britain. [Photo:VCG]

Two major Chinese bike-sharing companies are in a fierce battle for market share in the UK.

The cities of Manchester and Salford recently saw the launch of 1000 mobikes while rival Ofo has launched a trial in Cambridge with plans for expansion.

However Singaporean rival oBike are the first to begin rolling out their bikes in London.

The traffic is heavy In east London even during the day… some beat the cues by using bikes. On this particular day many riders and pedestrians are noticing a shiny new orange bikes parked up outside the underground rail station. Singapore's oBike has arrived in the city. Local people are intrigued.

"I think it will be good for the locals especially because not everyone can afford a bike and not everybody has a bike. A lot of people don't tend to get bikes incase of theft as well. The fact that this is there, it's like something you would share."

"I'll give it a try, I like the orange, it stuck out to me, it's got a nice design, that's always good, that's important."

Throughout July, obike are offering a reduced registration fee and free rides throughout the month to spread the word. The company would not comment on the scale of their investment, however UK manager Haroon Khan, says they aim to have hundreds of bikes in the capital by the end of the month.

"When we get to the end of his month, when we get to the end of next month even, there'll be more and more bikes and that's what people are looking for, can I find a bike, can I basically return it somewhere quickly and safely and that's what we're tackling and focussing on. "

London already has a bike sharing scheme… so called Boris bikes… introduced by former Mayor Boris Johnson and operated byTransport for London. Public money was used to establish this scheme and riders can use them between docking stations.

What's new for the UK consumer is the dockles bikes, which can be left anywhere public, located unlocked and paid by using a smartphone. And no public money is involved.

oBike is not the only Asian company offering dockless bike share schemes in the UK. China's Mobike recently introduced 1 thousand bikes in the northern cities of Manchester and Salford, while Ofo, also a Chinese venture, has a small prototype scheme operating in Cambridge with plans to expland there and in other UK cities. Recently both raised hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding rounds.

Dr Tim Schwanen is Director of the Transport Studies Unit at St Anne's College, Oxford University. He says these new companies are copying business models they've had success with in China, scaling up rapidly in the hopes that multi million investments now, will create a lucrative market in terms of user and advertising revenues in the future.

While there have been reports of vandalism and theft of both the London and Manchester bikes, Dr. Schwanen says the companies have factored this into their expectations. The Mobike scheme has been widely welcomed by cycling advocates like Nick Hubble of the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign. He says Mobike has been great for getting people on bikes and highlighting the need for better infrastructure for cyclists… something he says Manchester lacks at present.

Without a clear culture of mass cycling and with variable weather, it's not clear if the British will take the various bike sharing schemes in the same way they have proved popular in Asian and European cities. It could be that different schemes come to dominate in different cities and regions. What is clear is that foreign investors believe there is a market to be created and intend to chase their share.

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