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China’s Bicycle Graveyards

Over the last few years, the bicycle-sharing phenomenon has taken the world by storm, especially in China, where—according to one report—there are over 70 private bike-sharing companies in operation with a collective pool of 16 million cycles and over 130 million users. These bikes, especially the dockless variety, can be picked up from anywhere on the streets using a smartphone to unlock them first, and then dropped off anywhere without the need to park it at a dock. Regular users say these bikes are godsend because it allows them to avoid congested public transport routes and reduce travel costs, while also reducing pollution and encouraging users to stay fit.

However, the supply has vastly outpaced demand. Many Chinese cities ill-equipped to handle the sudden flood of millions of shared bicycles have been overwhelmed. Illegal parking have led to clogged sidewalks, while damaged and mangled bikes are routine occurrence.

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A giant pile of mangled bicycles in Xiamen, south-east China. Photo credit: Chen Zixiang for the Guardian

Recently, a number of bike sharing companies went out of business, the largest of which was Bluegogo. Almost overnight, websites became defunct and apps stopped working. Thousands of bicycles were left abandoned on the streets, attracting vandalism and abuse on those uncollected bikes. As cities impounded derelict and abandoned bikes by the thousands, scenes such as these became a familiar sight in many big Chinese cities.

The public, authorities, and existing bike-sharing companies themselves now hope that they could learn from the mistakes of earlier ventures and avoid the kind of oversaturation seen in China.

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