Chinese bike-share service to hit UK

By ANGUS McNEICE | China Daily UK | Updated: 2017-02-27 18:36

China's cycle startup Ofo has announced plans to bring its stand-free bike-sharing service to three international destinations.

Chinese bike-share service to hit UK

Ofo bikes will be available for people to ride in Cambridge soon. [China Daily] 

Ofo-pronounced "oh-efoh"-has chosen Cambridge for its entry point into Europe and next month 500 of the company's yellow and black bikes, ubiquitous in China's urban centers, will dot the streets of the university town. Located in the fl at Fenlands area, Cambridge is commonly referred to as the UK's unofficial "cycle city".

"We chose Cambridge because it's so bike-friendly," Ofo international PR lead Angela Cai said. "Research shows that one-third of the city's population rides bicycles to go to school or work. It's the highest rate in the UK, so there's a high demand."

Ofo is Beijing Bikelock Technology's mobile app-supported bike-sharing scheme, partially funded by Lei Jun who founded smartphone company Xiaomi, and Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing service that acquired Uber's China operation last year.

Starting in 2014 at Peking University, Ofo now operates across 35 cities in China and is one of China's biggest bike-sharing services, valued at $500 million with 15 million registered users. The bike-sharing market in China has become increasingly crowded-more than a dozen services vie for the country's cyclists. Mobike, partially owned by Tencent Holdings, had 72.5 percent of the market share in 2016, according to a report by Trustdata.

Late last year, Ofo chief executive Dai Wei announced plans to ship 20,000 bicycles abroad, choosing three foreign destinations from which to launch the firm's global expansion: Cambridge, Singapore, and Stanford in California.

"We hope that the UK will serve as a gateway for our business in Europe, and Singapore for our business in South-east Asia," Cai said.

Bike-sharing schemes are not new to the UK. Thousands of Londoners get around daily on Santander Cycles, commonly referred to as "Boris bikes" named after former London mayor Boris Johnson, who launched the scheme. Cambridge did have a bike-sharing program in the early 1990s but it was quickly abandoned as most of the 300 bicycles were stolen within a year.

Ofo differs to most of Europe's public bike-sharing programs in several ways. The service does not use docking stations-users are free to pick up bikes wherever they find them and leave them wherever they please. Riders use the Ofo app-now available for download in English-to scan a QR code or enter a bike registration number to gain access to a bike lock combination code. Users can search for nearby bikes on the app, and at night, a service will collect bikes and redistribute them to high-use areas.

Ofo rides also come cheap-one trip will cost just 50 pence ($0.63) in the UK and $1 in the US. In comparison, Santander Cycle hire starts at 2 pounds ($2.5).

The Cambridge operation will start with 500 bikes and Ofo will later decide on further expansion after a trial phase, which it expects will commence mid-March.

"We have to make sure that we consider all aspects, including testing the rides and getting feedback from users before we roll in more bikes," Cai said.

Around 40 percent of adults cycle at least three times a week in Cambridge, the highest rate of any British region and more than double that of the Isles of Scilly, in second place with 19 percent, according to Cycle UK.

Ofo conducted meetings with, and gained the support of, the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (GCGP) and Cambridgeshire County Council.

"The City of Cambridge was obviously attractive to Ofo as the UK's cycling capital and obviously any increase in cycling has environmental benefits and helps to reduce traffic congestion in the city center," said Steven Wilson, head of innovation at GCGP.

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