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The definition of mobility today is no longer just about traditional transport, it now entails application of the latest technologies, including big data, digitalized infrastructure, and cloud computing, to solve problems not only in the transport sector but also in urban planning, environmental protection, and sustainable development,” said Randeep Sudan, an Information Communication Technology advisor at the World Bank.

In the move towards sustainable consumption and production patterns, mobility is one of the priority areas. Sustainable mobility suggests seeking an effective way to integrate both product innovation and innovation on the level of the production and consumption system within which the product is placed and which satisfies a particular demand for transportation (Vezzoli and Ceschin, 2008). A move towards sustainable mobility necessitates a reduction in the inefficient use of private vehicles and an increase in access to environmentally sustainable transport, especially for communities with a high percentage of low-income households.

Recent years have seen a rapid development and implementation of public bicycle systems, or “bike-sharing” systems. Depending on the measures used it is estimated that there have been some 461 bike-sharing programmes set up in 28 countries (Beroud et al., 2010); or, alternatively, more than 500 programmes in 49 countries (Larsen, 2013). Technological advances, such as bike tracking, solar powering, telecommunicating and online shopping, have helped transform bike-sharing from an aspiration to reality. It is in this context that China has joined other wealthy countries in developing bike-sharing schemes. Part of the reason for this is that China is, like many other countries, suffering greatly from the negative consequences of an over-reliance on motor vehicles as a primary mode of urban transportation that is congested roads causing journey times to be high and carbon emissions from vehicles contributing to high levels of pollution of the air, costly demand for fossil fuels and harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Figure 1. China still struggling to deal with traffic congestion. Source: Zhanghong. Click here to see the article.


The “new sustainable transport normal” in China —- “Bike-sharing” System

Transport is one of the most challenging issues in sustainable urban development and in terms of transport planning a public transit-oriented mode has been officially recommended for most cities in China (Wang, 2002). As bicycles can be used as a complementary means to public transit systems, a bike-sharing system provides an opportunity to be integrated into urban development.

Figure 2. Sharing-bike, 4 easy steps.

Bike-sharing is a convenient and “green” transport mode, and therefore plays an important and complementary role in the comprehensive transport system. Cycling has several advantages over other transport modes: it requires less facilities, can reach some under-served destinations, and a bicycle is relatively inexpensive to purchase and maintain. Research suggests that a bicycle is an ideal transport mode in 2 km to 5 km travel distance range (Li, 2009). Using bicycles to connect with buses can solve the problem of the “last mile” in public transit modes. From a sustainable transportation planning perspective, though, the core issue of bike-sharing is: who would be served by such a system?

Figure 3. A Mobike user in Shanghai. Photo by Kai Xu in 2016. Click here to see the article.

City dwellers who undertake a daily commute to and from their work and tourists are the two largest groups of transport demand in an urban area. To these groups, a bike-sharing system can be an innovative and sustainable solution. In large cities of China, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the average time of commute are 42 minutes, which is ranked as the longest in the world (Guan, 2011). For tourists, riding a bicycle is an attractive activity. Bike-riding can help to protect scenic spots and historical conservation areas and it can also slow down citizens pace of life and improve their quality. For this and other reasons, local planning government departments in Shanghai, for example, are considering building “slow traffic facilities” (Wang et al., 2010).

Below is a video: Chinese Tech Giants’ New Bet: Bike Sharing by Wall Street Journal.


Bike-sharing schemes: Flourishing or running riot?


The cycles belong to Ofo and Mobike, two startups that, taken together, have raised $2.2bn of capital and are valued at more than $4bn. Each has more than 7 million bikes in operation in more than 170 Chinese cities. Chinese cities’ high density—approximately 100,000 people per city block—makes every street corner a possible bike hub, with many sporting 20-30 bikes available at any one time (Chen, 2017). Furthermore, low-cost labor provides regular redistribution and maintenance. Ofo’s canary-yellow cycles and Mobike’s silver-and-orange ones can now be found in cities from Adelaide to London and Singapore to Seattle. China may be creating a new model of transportation that could be adopted globally. Click here to see how two bike rental giants success in China by taken different ways.

Figure 4. Ofo’s global distribution.
Figure 5. Mobike’s global distribution.

Running Riot

Rapid investment has seen the number of bikes on the road rocket and spread over the year. But this has also caused problems. Bikes are often parked haphazardly and infringe on urban spaces, while the manufacturing of the bikes is causing pollution.

While urban residents may now find getting about the city easier, the rapid expansion has not been without problems. The bikes can be left and collected from anywhere in the city which is causing headaches for municipal authorities. Media reports from Shenzhen told of over ten thousand bikes “invading” a beach during a recent public holiday, with an entire road taken over by parked bikes.

Figure 5. Shared bikes take over a popular promenade spot in Shenzhen (Photo by Southern Metropolis Daily)

The Chinese government has already expressed support for the bike-sharing sector. When soliciting opinions on rules for bike-sharing, the Ministry of Transport said that internet-based bike rental schemes are to be encouraged to develop and improve service levels, so these bikes will help improve urban transportation and reduce emissions from transportation. However, it is still unclear what actual rules will be applied.

Below is a video: China’s Bike-Sharing madness! (OFO vs. MoBike & many others) by xiaomify.




Beroud, B., R Clavel. and S Le Vine., (2010) Perspectives on the growing market for public bicycles focus on France and the United Kingdom, European Transport Conference, Glasgow, Scotland.

Chen, Y., (2017) Mobike and Ofo investors in talks to merge China’s two largest bike-sharing startups, the Independent Online, Available at on 28 Dec 2017.

Guan, J., (2011) Regional traffic collaborative control in the large city. Word ITS Summit · China 2011, Shanghai, China.

Larsen, J., (2013) Bike-Sharing Programs Hit the Streets in Over 500 Cities Worldwide, Plan B Updates, Earth Policy Institute, Available at on 26 Dec 2017.

Li, L., Chen, H. and Sun X., (2009) Bike Rental Station Deployment Planning in Wuhan. Urban Transport of China, Vol.7(4), pp.39-44.

Vezzoli, C. and Ceschin, F., (2008) Product Service Systems in the automotive industry: an alternative business model for a sustainable satisfaction system, In Cheng K., Makatsoris H., e Harrison D., Advances in manufacturing technology – XXII. In: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Manufacturing Research (ICMR08), Brunel University.

Wang, G., (2002) Urban Transportation and Sustainable Development, Publisher: Beijing Publishing Group Ltd.

Wang S, et al., (2010) Bike-Sharing: A new public transportation mode: State of the practice & prospects. In: Proceedings of 2010 IEEE International Conference on Emergency Management and Management Sciences, ICEMMS 2010, Beijing, China, Vol. 10(8), pp. 222-225.

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