The Struggle Behind the “Tomb of Shared Bikes” in Chinese Cities
摘要： Why are these online shared bikes piled up in abandoned construction sites or parking lots? What did relevant parties in response? What's the way out?
As ordinary Chinese shared-bike users unlock any bike on the street, get on a ride and benefit from its convenience, seldom do they realize the huge cost underneath. Fundamentally, these shared bikes are supported by government and venture capital firms but rented to citizens at an extremely low price or even for free.
In the middle of September, after 2.35 million shared bikes had already launched in Beijing, Beijing municipal government announced that no share bike should be launched anymore in Beijing. Up till now, first-tier cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen have closed the window to launched new shared bikes.
At the same time, other cities have also been strengthening their efforts to regulate shared bikes. In the past, shared bikes that crammed the roadside were somewhat tolerated; today, however, they shall be transferred into the “wasteland”.
Shared bikes appeared on the streets in major cities across China almost irresistibly, catching everybody’s attention. Today, however, they were gradually piled up in construction sites along with weeds and left to rust and grease.
Shared bikes, though “locked”
The other days, our journalist happened to go pass the Lenovo Building in Haidian District, Beijing, and found rows of shared bikes in an open-air parking lot. When we looked closer, we were amazed to find a huge matrix of shared bikes.
However, they were not participating in a parade, but rather locked inside a construction site in the northwestern corner of Beijing.
These shared bikes were from various platforms, including Bluegogo, UniBike and CoolQi Bike, etc. Most of them, however, were from Mobike and ofo. Telling from the green bristlegrass on the ground, most of these bikes seemed to have been left here for a long while.
A worker from a bus dispatch station nearby told us that urban management officers began to throw shared bikes here a month ago. Half a month ago, the “crack-down” stopped since the parking lot had already been filled with shared bikes.
Based on rough calculation, the parking lot is 50 meters long and 100 meters wide and covers 5,000 square meters in total. Suppose there are two shared bikes in each square meter, then there are around 10,000 shared bikes in the parking lot, at least.
When we looked closer, we found that most of these share bikes were intact. There weren’t any obvious damage on these bikes and people could still ride them. According to the personnel from bus dispatch station, personnel from shared bike platforms also didn’t come for these bikes.
These days, the concept “tomb of shared bikes” was gradually accepted by the public. Ironically, while tombs are for the dead, shared bikes were quite new in these “tombs”.
The problem is: they are left here intentionally. Worse still, weeds spring up on some shared bikes.
This is just one of the many “tombs” in Beijing. The other days, a “tomb of ofo bikes” also aroused heated discussion. A month ago, a tomb of over 10,000 shared bikes also appeared near Tuqiao, Tongzhou District, Beijing.
As the fad for shared bikes gradually ebbed away, more shared bikes were sent into such “tombs”. This is true not only in first-tier cities such as Beijing, but also in other cities.
Thousands of shared bikes in an abandoned construction site in Qinhuai District, Nanjing.
Over 10,000 shared bikes were left in an abandoned school in Anhui province.
The second “tomb of shared bikes” in Hangzhou.
Among all these “tombs”, the tomb in a construction site in Hongxing Road, Jing’an District, Shanghai is definitely the biggest. These “tombs” showcased the “struggle” among different parties over shared bikes.
From the “land king” of Shanghai to a “tomb” of shared bikes
Last August, a piece of land covering 31,000 square meters was sold at a price of RMB11 billion, making it the most expensive piece of land (“land king”) at that time. Suppose the floor area was around 100,000 square meters, then the average pland rice would be over RMB 100,000 per square meters.
However, the “land king” ironically became the best place to park thousand of shared bikes a year later.
When we paid a visit to this “land king”, we were amazed to find that the “tomb of shared bikes” was surrounded by weeds half a meter tall. However, the was already improved as the weed was wiped once at the end of August. Imagine the situation prior to the wiping movement. Since these shared bikes were covered by weeds and became indistinguishable with nature, it might occur to some people the documentary “The World After Human Beings Became Extinct”.
We happened to find a freight truck in the parking lot, which might help explain why these shared bikes were piled up here. On the window of the truck, we could clearly see a label plate that read “Street Special Rectification Campaign”. On August 18th, Shanghai Municipal Transportation Commission stopped bike-sharing platforms from launching new bikes and started to confiscate shared bikes parked outside of assigned spots.
However, there wasn’t just a place enough to park all those “illegal” shared bikes. Therefore, the parking lot near the “land king” mentioned above was also turned into a “tomb” of shared bikes.
In this parking lot, however, shared bikes weren’t parked in rows orderly. On the contrary, they were randomly parked in piles, as we could hear the tick-tock of smart locks from time to time.
We happened to encounter a truck carrying “illegal” shared bikes. The personnel, however, didn’t seem to treat shared bikes well. Instead, they were rudely thrown from the truck to the two meter high shared bike pile.
After all, they didn’t have much time to park shared bikes in rows. The driver told us that they were supposed to carry over ten trucks (30 shared bikes per truck) of “illegal” shared bikes to here every day.
More importantly, there simply wasn’t enough place to park these “illegal” shared bikes in Shanghai, a city of no waste land.
The relevant personnel at the scene also didn’t know exactly how many “illegal” shared bikes were parked here. As a matter of fact, this place was turned into the parking lot of shared bikes since last year, though they were still parked in rows at that time. However, as more and more shared bikes were carried here, new shared bikes had to be piled up in the sky.
These workers also complained to us about this “new odds”. Since there were so many people reporting “illegal” shared bikes, we were too busy to handle everything well.
However, as the first stage construction of the “land king” was to start soon, orderly-parked “illegal” shared bikes from the “land king” also had to be transferred here.
Shared bikes, abandoned
When we tried to unlock some “illegal” shared bikes, we succeeded. The only problem, however, was that they were tangled up with other bikes.
That’s to say, these shared bikes, though piled up randomly, were still functioning well.
We also happened to encounter two guys from Mobike. They were checking these bikes to see if they were still functioning well and tagging bikes that went broke.
However, they could do nothing but count broken and unbroken bikes. Although Shanghai municipal government had asked relevant companies to retrieve these bikes, no platform had any further move yet.
The personnel from the parking lot was also annoyed by the unsolved inconvenience. Although many media have covered the situation here and even let vice mayor know, the problem was left unsolved.
The main issue here was the huge maintenance cost. According to statistics from the Hangzhou City Administration Bureau this July, it cost RMB 220,000 to carry and manage 22,000 “illegal” shared bikes. In other words, it cost 10 yuan to manage one shared bike.
From the aspect of bike-sharing platforms, there were simply not enough people to get these shared bikes back. At present, there were around 1.5 million shared bikes in Shanghai. Suppose every 200 shared bikes needed to be assigned one maintenance personnel, and every maintenance personnel’s salary was RMB 3,500, then they had to bear an additional operation cost of RMB 26 million in total. Obviously, no platform could afford such huge cost. According to the personnel from Mobike, every maintenance personnel had to in charge of over 1,000 shared bikes. Therefore, they just didn’t have extra time to handle these “illegal” shared bikes.
An industry insider, however, explained to us that even if these shared bikes were taken away, they would come back here again some time later. While there were so many shared bikes, there simply wasn’t enough parking place to assign to them. Users, however, preferred the idea of finding and parking shared bikes anywhere on the street. Since most shared bikes would be parked on the street randomly after usage, they would anyhow be regarded as “illegal” shared bikes and carried away.
This was a designated parking lot for shared bikes near the exit of Longze Subway Station, Line 13, Beijing. The City Administration Bureau specifically assigned this place to shared bikes and parked them in rows orderly, leaving the street free of “illegal” shared bikes.
However, a few weeks later, as more shared bikes were gather here, the parking lot was simply not enough to hold all of them. Therefore, some of them were still parked outside the parking lot randomly.
In our field report, we found that “electric piles” were also poorly used. Since one reason online shared bikes defeated public shared bikes and became widely used was that they could be found and parked randomly on the street, online bikes sharing platforms also didn’t have any quick fix. After all, it takes time to educate users and change their user behavior.
Obviously, online bike-sharing platforms weren’t the only party to be blame for. In the primary stage of the development of shared bikes, the public seemed to stand for shared bikes and severely criticized behaviors such as breaking smart locks or locking smart locks with private locks. However, as shared bikes began to be piled at the entrance of many residential communities, people began to complain about shared bikes.
Fundamentally, this has to do with the lack of appropriate attention on non-motor vehicles in city infrastructure planning in the urbanization process.
In a word, the phenomenon “tomb of shared bikes” is the combined result of capital force, public demands and government policy. Nevertheless, it’s a pity that shared bikes were piled up in waste land in just this way.
Everything comes at a price
As we enjoy the convenience of shared bikes, seldom do we realize the huge cost underneath. After all, such convenience comes at the expense of capital support, public and government support. Users are able to lend shared bikes for such a low price because of the support of public resource and government management resource.
However, both these resources didn’t come for free. To continue to enjoy the convenience of shared bikes, we have to get accustomed to finding and parking shared bikes in designated place. Otherwise, we had to partially bear the huge maintenance cost of shared bikes.
However, will people be willing to stand for such minor “inconvenience”? Or can they afford such rising cost? Can they find a perfect balance point?
Anyhow, before we reach the balance point, these smart shared bikes still had to be randomly piled up in construction sites, ticking one after another, and abandoned.
[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Chedongxi Please note the source and hyperlink when reproduce.]
Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.