Tue, Mar 13, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Chinese bike-share giants expanding rivalry in UK

UNDAUNTED:While GoBee Bike has abandoned Europe, Tencent’s Mobike and Alibaba’s Ofo are planning large-scale expansions in the UK as part of their global strategy

The Guardian

Women ride Mobikes on a street in Mexico City after the Chinese bike-sharing company launched its service in the city on Feb. 28.

Photo: Reuters

Dockless bike provider Mobike Technology Co Ltd (摩拜科技) and Ofo Inc (共享單車) are to dramatically expand their operations in London and Manchester as the two Chinese companies continue their cutthroat multibillion-dollar battle for global domination.

The expansion plans come despite the decision last week by rival GoBee Bike to abandon European operations after 60 percent of its bikes were vandalized or destroyed within four months of launch.

Starting yesterday, the bike-sharing schemes are to expand into Southwark, London, with Ofo, which is backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴), confident that most other boroughs in the capital would join by the end of the year.

Ofo has so far introduced 1,250 bikes into London, but said it is ultimately targeting 150,000 bikes across the city, compared with the 12,000 bikes currently available under the official Santander-sponsored “Boris Bike” scheme.

Stockport is to get the first of 1,000 orange-and-silver Mobikes rolled out yesterday after the company said its initial scheme in Manchester was a success.

The expansion represents a turnaround from the early days of the Mobike scheme in the city, when damaged and stolen cycles soon littered canals, trash cans and back gardens.

The Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊)-sponsored company said that 70 of its first 1,000 bikes had disappeared, but undaunted, it is pressing ahead with expansion.

“There was a big spike in vandalism when we first launched, which is sad, but that tailed off at the back end of last year,” Mobike UK general manager Steve Pyer said.

Riders use smartphone apps to unlock bikes on city streets, paying £0.50 (US$0.69) for 30 minutes’ use.

Tencent and Alibaba have provided billions of US dollars in financing to Mobike and Ofo respectively, in a rare challenge to Silicon Valley’s dominance in Internet start-ups.

Since its launch in Shanghai in April 2016, Mobike has expanded to more than 200 cities worldwide. Ofo, founded in 2014 by five Peking University students, said its bikes are used by 32 million cyclists in 250 cities.

However, there has been continued speculation that despite the intensity of competition, investors might force the two firms to merge into one global player.

Leeds is to become the next big city in line for the yellow Ofo bikes, with a launch expected in spring.

Ofo in January introduced 1,000 bikes in Sheffield and said the uptake has exceeded expectations. More than 6,000 residents signed up during the first few weeks of the scheme, with Ofo promising to introduce 300 more bikes this month.

“I am delighted with the impact Ofo is having... We have approved a new wave of bikes to be introduced to the city,” Sheffield City Councilor Jack Scott said.

Mobike and Ofo have overcome early hostility from some councils concerned about bikes clogging pathways and station entrances. Both said they would only introduce their bikes into an area once the local council has given permission.

However, in other European cities, local authorities are clamping down on unregulated bike-sharing schemes.

Last week, Lisbon began removing all bicycles belonging the oBike share scheme, which began appearing on streets early last month.

“Lisbon as a city is very open to these kinds of schemes, but when we start seeing bikes left in the middle of squares or on top of benches in parks, it shows that it’s important this kind of activity is regulated,” town councilor for mobility Miguel Gaspar told Publico newspaper.

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