It has been a bumpy ride for the bike-sharing startups in Hong Kong. Not long after Gobee Bike, the city’s first bike-sharing service launched in April, several of its bikes were found damaged, with some being thrown into rivers. Meanwhile, the company faced criticism for using public parking spaces for its business, and a security loophole was also found in its app.
Following the experiences of the first-mover, a new startup called Ketch’Up Bike has launched operations in the city, introducing a new business model for the industry: “Buy and Rent Out”.
To learn how the new model seeks to address the current problems in the bike-sharing industry, Mickey Fong of EJ Digital met up with Ketch’Up Bike’s founder and CEO Kenneth Chau, and Charles So, chairman of the Smart Mobility Committee of the Smart City Consortium, a group that assists the government in formulation of policies related to development of Hong Kong as a smart city.
Here are edited excerpts from the conversation:
Q: Bike-sharing businesses have come under various criticisms in Hong Kong, especially over issues like illegal parking. What are your views on this?
Charles So: There is certainly room for improvement in the operation of the bike-sharing platforms. Even in Shanghai, where there are a lot more spaces available for parking and vehicle movement, there are voices calling for regulations to better manage the bike rental business. The calls include legislation on the minimum age limit for cyclists and even some rules related to the handlebar bell. In Hong Kong, given the geographical constraints in the city, bike-sharing service may only be suitable for certain places.
Kenneth Chau: I started Ketch’Up Bike to address the issues found in bike-sharing services in markets worldwide. We came up with a whole new business model: Every shared bike will have an individual owner. The owner can ride his bike free of cost for a certain time during the day and then rent out the bike.
This is the bike-sharing model that we aim to achieve. When a bike is rented out to others, the owner can receive 50 percent of the rental fee. In case the bike is found to have been parked in remote areas, the owner has the incentive to bring it back to ‘high-traffic’ locations.
Q: How do the business models of bike-sharing platforms in Hong Kong and mainland China compare? What should be done to improve the service?
Kenneth Chau: Bike-sharing service industry in China has had explosive growth, with numerous new service providers flocking to the market, leading to a massive glut in rental bikes.
As for us, we prefer healthy market growth. We value exchange of views with bike owners and users. If a person can’t find a bike to rent at a particular location, he is welcome to send us that information so that we can place more bikes in that area to cater to the public’s needs. As a bike-sharing startup, we aim to enhance the efficiency of bike allocation through smart city data analytics. We don’t want the bikes to be parked randomly on streets.
Q: As of now, there are several mobile applications with real-time transport and parking space search functions available in Hong Kong. Service providers, meanwhile, are urging the government to be open-minded on transport data sharing. How will the tech sector work on this?
Charles So: The government possesses data on public bicycle parking spaces, but they don’t have data on the private ones, as the rental bike sector has not yet reached consensus on parking data sharing. As far as I know, the government is encouraging the sector to participate in a forthcoming launch of a mobile application for cyclists to check the availability of parking spaces.
Kenneth Chau: Ketch’Up Bike is going to team up with a navigation app, providing more real-time information for our bikers. We are also building partnerships with major shopping malls to drive biker flow. Besides, we are seeking support from village representatives in New Territories for ways to motivate city-folk to venture on trips into the countryside.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 25
Translation by Ben Ng
[Chinese version 中文版]
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