Beijing-based start-up Mobike, one of China’s largest bike-sharing schemes, has announced a six-month UK trial period in the cities of Manchester and Salford, its first locations outside Asia. Arriving on June 29, 1,000 bikes will be available at 50p per half-hour, and requiring a refundable deposit, expected to be £49. Founder Weiwei Hu said they chose Manchester as the 100th city to host Mobike because it is “a European leader in culture, innovation and technology.” The move is part of the company’s wider plan to expand to several European cities by the end of the year.
Unlike traditional docking systems found in cities across Europe—which require bikes to be picked up and returned at specific locations—Mobike allows riders to park bikes anywhere they want, without the hassle of finding a fixed station. Often called “Uber for bikes,” the app allows users to find the nearest available ride and use a QR code to unlock the bikes. And unlike London’s “Boris bikes,” which have cost the taxpayer £145m since launching in May 2012, Mobike will come at no cost to the public purse.
Launched in December 2016, Mobike claims its users take 20 million journeys each day on over 5 million bikes. Transport for London reported that the record for cycle hires in a single day stands at 73,000.
Despite recently pulling out of 14 cities in China, chief competitor Ofo has already beaten Mobike to the British market, launching 50 bikes in Cambridge. Ofo has stated they have plans to expand to three other major cities in the UK, including London, by the end of the year, heightening competition between the two companies.
Greater Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, has approved the plans, but added Mobikes were an “untested idea in the UK” and remained “under review.” Common problems reported in China include congested pavements, and broken or unwanted bicycles abandoned in the streets as a result of limited regulation. Critics say bike-sharing schemes aim to reduce congestion, but risk adding to the problem in highly populated areas.
With Foxconn’s recent investment doubling production to 10 million bikes per year, Mobike’s future looks promising. Weiwei Hu says he envisions Manchester as a Shanghai for Europe, but only time will tell if the brands is successful in the European market. If Manchester is a success, a potential launch in London could transform the way its population of 8.6 million moves around the city, while also cutting pollution and congestion in the capital.