Hong Kong’s bike-sharing market has seen the entry of several players such as Ofo, oBike and Ketch’Up Bike, but the story overall has been of a quick boom and bust phenomenon.
In July last year, Gobee.bike, the first entrant into the business in the city, shut shop after just over a year of operations, citing heavy losses. Even so, we still see lots of two-wheelers from multiple bike-sharing firms at street corners and pavements across the city.
Ken Ching, co-founder and CEO of LocoBike, one of the few remaining players here, admitted that bike-sharing services have drawn a lot of flak from the public, with citizens complaining, among other things, about unsightly presence of bikes left on the city’s narrow streets and jam-packed roads.
The issues have “dragged down the development of the sector,” the entrepreneur said.
“Several operators failed to put in sufficient efforts to manage their fleets of bikes,” Ching told the Hong Kong Economic Journal. “That’s why there are shared bikes clogging the streets, and many bikes are being stolen or vandalized.”
A high damage rate in bikes leads to rising cost of maintenance for bike-sharing operators.
LocoBike, a company with a fleet of 5,000 bikes operating in Hong Kong, has a “patrol team” of 20 people responsible for clearing their bikes which block the streets in districts that the firm covers, according to Ching.
Patrollers will also repair the damaged bikes on the spot, in order to reduce the disposal of damaged bikes and possibly extend the life cycle of the vehicles. In other initiatives, LocoBike delivers a HK$1 coupon to users who leave the bike at a public parking space after usage.
Despite that, with other operators reluctant to ramp up efforts, the general situation of shared bikes clogging the streets has not significantly improved, resulting in the lack of social support towards the sector.
“Take the supporting facilities for the sector, like designated parking space for shared bikes for example. The District Councils do not easily approve the planning and establishment of these parking spaces,” noted Ching.
Despite grim forecasts for the business, and the trend where players have been pulling out one by one, Ching believes the market for bike-sharing services in Hong Kong is “still at the beginning stage”.
“Development of bike-sharing markets in Singapore, the United States, and even mainland China, is in a similar path,” he said.
“At the beginning, many operators enter the market, with some simply wanting to raise money. And then, after the government comes in, implementing regulations, those players would quit, and those remaining in the market are operators that truly want to work on this.”
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 8
Translation by Ben Ng
[Chinese version 中文版]
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