The meteoric rise of car ownership, coupled with a two-decade effort by Beijing to create subway systems in nearly every major city, has seriously affected bicycle use in China. The country's one-time reputation as the kingdom of bikes has been dented, but several homegrown companies are looking to rekindle the national love affair with two-wheeled self-propelled transport.
In Kunming, urban planners announced late last year they would establish an ambitious city-wide bike sharing program. The rollout of the 'The Last Kilometer' (最后一公里) project — which will eventually total 45,000 bikes — has been embraced by many across the city, and scoffed at by some. Sporadic reports of theft and vandalism have so far not deterred businesses managing the programs from adding ever more bikes.
Three separate companies now vie for Kunming bike-sharing supremacy — Mobike (磨拜), ofo and Yonganxing (永安行) — while a fourth, state-owned start-up is expected to enter the market soon. Each company operates along the same general lines, offering the use of basic single-gear bikes that riders can leave on the curb, with some pretty sizable differences in user interface, agreements and pricing.
The premise is simple — use your cell phone to either rent a bike, or download the pertinent cell phone application (app), locate a bike near you, scan the QR code attached to the frame to unlock the bike, and off you go. Below are the major points specific to each companies' product, gleaned from app menus and advertisements. Repeated calls to all three customer service lines went unanswered.
Mobike has gone for bikes with a slightly modern and sleek design, as well as an easy-to-access APP that tracks total distance travelled and calories burnt. It is available in both English and Chinese versions. These sorts of considerations have led to the company to establish bike sharing interests in 21 Chinese cities and garner US$300 million in foreign investment. The company's bikes in Kunming are silver with orange highlights.
Using Mobike requires a 299 yuan deposit into the Mobike app wallet using either WeChat or Alipay. The deposit can be refunded immediately after a ride or maintained for future use. Pricing is time-based, costing one yuan per 30 minutes. Unlocking a rear-wheel mounted parking brake via the app starts the counter for payment, while re-locking it ends the trip and settles the transaction automatically. Using the bike for 24 hours straight without locking it costs 48 yuan. Users are encouraged to find a Mobike parking area when finished riding, but this is not required.
Mobike also features a rider rating program. Each new user begins with a rating of 100. Points are added for riding without incident and a prompt payment history. Inviting other people to download the app also adds to a user's rating. Points will be deducted when people are involved in unreported accidents or damaging incidents. Damage reports can be made through the app.
The rating system seems far more geared toward eschewing vandalism and theft than reaping rewards. Those whose rating drops below 80 points are automatically charged 100 yuan for every 30 minutes of ride time. Those riders experiencing difficulty while trying to pay can call WeChat at 95017 or Alipay at 95188. A general help hotline can possibly be reached at 4008117799.
Using the ofo app requires using a 'real ID registration', meaning the use of a Chinese national ID number (身份证号) or, in the case of foreigners, a passport number. The yellow and black bikes cost one yuan per hour and a deposit of 99 yuan. Payment is accepted through either WeChat or Alipay and the deposit is automatically returned upon each completed payment. Those experiencing payment problems are encouraged to call 4001507507.
Differing slightly from its competitors, ofo bikes have a combination lock. Scanning a specific bicycle's frame-mounted QR code results in an instant message containing the bike lock combination. Locking the bike after a trip triggers a payment approval message on your phone.
One major difference between ofo and its competitors, is that it offers at least some obvious medical coverage in cases of accident. The company can provide up to 10,000 yuan in coverage for some minor cases, as well as up to 500,000 yuan in disability coverage. People wishing to make a claim should call 4006710225 within 24 hours of the accident.
Oddly, unlike the city's other options, ofo bikes are not currently equipped with global positioning system trackers. Both of its Kunming competitors offer a bike-finding map service on their apps using GPS, but as of this writing this feature is not an option with ofo.
Yonganxing is Kunming's lower-end entry — a cheap option for a basic product. Using the bikes requires a 99 yuan deposit, which can be refunded in three days. Pricing is also time-based, costing 0.5 yuan for every 30 minutes travelled. Payment is possible through both WeChat or Alipay.
Operating Yonganxing bikes also involves scanning a QR code to open the lock and start the timer. Unlike the other Kunming market entries, multiple Yonganxing bicycles can be rented at the same time using the same user account. These bikes are painted bright yellow and blue, and are noticeably less heavy and solid than their competitors.
Guidelines for using Yonganxing bikes unfortunately seem far more focused on what not to do than with a happy user experience. A full reading of the user agreement basically boils down to 'any and all problems are solely the problem of the rider', although the company will offer "as much help as possible with a friendly spirit" when people call 4008816919.
Yonganxing has a 'rider-reward' program involving carbon credits, which are awarded for a good riding record and total distance traveled. One credit can be converted into 100 'coins' that can then be spent at the company's app-based store.
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