How the Chinese Bike Share Industry Crashed and Burned
In a nation once known for cycling, hundreds of thousands of abandoned bikes now litter cities.
For decades China was famous for its citizens’ devotion to cycling. But that legacy of pedaling has failed to translate into success for the country’s bike-share industry, which has imploded spectacularly in the past two years. And the causes of this failure are many—and reach back decades.
Twenty years ago, masses of cyclists converged on cities every day. But then the Chinese government put in place regulations to curtail cycling to help prop up the nation’s burgeoning auto manufacturing industry. After the SARS epidemic sparked fears of using public transit, cars became even more popular—and bikes even less so. As the Chinese middle class boomed in the early 2000s, so too did the auto population of the country
However, these circumstances all conspired to create some of the worst traffic jams—and air quality—in the world. And so, coming full circle, bicycling and bike shares were seen as the solution.
But thanks to too rapid proliferation of start-ups, poorly designed docking stations, and the fact that bikes were now mostly relegated to sidewalks, the once promising bike share industry has fallen flat. Now, Chinese cities are dealing with an epidemic of abandoned bikes, as hundreds of thousands of them litter street corners and clog up garbage dumps.
In the new China, Foreign Policy notes: “There’s always going to be a small audience for cycling—but it turned out to be a bad dream to build giant firms on.”
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