A thousand Mobikes are to be made available for hire in Manchester and Salford after the Chinese dockless bike share firm was given permission to run a six-month trial from Thursday June 29. Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said that while the scheme was untested, he hoped it could play an important part in the region’s long-term plans for cycling.
Launched in Shanghai in April 2016, Mobike’s first year saw users cycling over 2.5bn kilometres – equivalent to a reduction in CO2 emissions of more than 610,000 tons, based on calculations by WWF China.
The firm now operates in 100 cities worldwide and boasts 5m bikes and 100m users. Manchester will be its first city outside Asia.
— Mobike UK (@MobikeUk) June 12, 2017
Indiscrimately parked bikes have however been a problem in other locations and Today Online reports that Mobike has introduced 1,000 of its own parking areas in a bid to minimise the problem in Singapore.
The Chinese government has also been moved to insist that users must be older than 12 years, and be insured for personal accidents and third-party liability.
How does it work?
The Mobike app allows users to find a bike nearby and then unlock it by scanning a QR code.
Journeys are charged per 30-minute period, starting once the bike has been unlocked and ending once it has been locked again. Although Mobike is yet to release a full price list, the first and second 30 minutes will cost 50p each.
Bikes will initially be available at popular sites such as railway stations and university campuses (and presumably Metrolink stops). Mobike will then analyse usage data to redistribute them efficiently on an ongoing basis to meet demand.
The app uses a ‘credit score’ system to track users' behaviour. Beginning with 100 points, you can either raise or reduce that score according to various actions.
For example, parking against the rules will lose you 20 points, whereas completing a normal ride will earn you a point – as will reporting a malfunction or a poorly parked bike.
Users with scores lower than 80 are subjected to a massive price hike. The cost will also increase if the app detects you riding outside the service area.
The scheme is not publicly funded or subsidised.
Burnham cautiously optimistic
Andy Burnham said: “As Mayor I want to see many more people swapping their cars for bikes in Greater Manchester and I will take a positive approach to promoting cycling across our city-region. This scheme could help make cycling more accessible to people, but it is an untested idea in the UK and we will need to keep this under review.
“We’re conscious that our city centre is a complex and busy area already, so TfGM has been working hard to establish a voluntary code of working with Mobike to make sure the service operates in a way that doesn’t inconvenience other road users, pedestrians or city centre traders.
“If successful, it could play an important part of our long-term plans for cycling in the region and for making travel easier and more sustainable.”
Steve Pyer, General Manager of Mobike UK, said: “Our aim is to be responsible, sustainable and innovative. We’re confident that Manchester and Salford and their residents will immediately see the benefits of our services, and the cities will become a showcase for the urban transformation that is possible when cycling usage rises, and city planning leverages smart data.”
Campaigners call for infrastructure to match ambition
Local cycle campaigners welcomed the development, but said that cycle infrastructure needed to be improved if the city were to make the most of it.
Nick Hubble, from Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign, told the Manchester Evening News: “One problem we have in Manchester is the infrastructure is not quite as bike-friendly as we would like it to be and we would urge the council to keep bearing that in mind.”
He added: “Bike hire schemes can help embed the idea of cycling in people’s minds in a city, the idea that bikes are the best option for short trips around urban areas.
“They are quicker than a car, better for you, a more enjoyable way of getting around. Bike hire schemes can break down barriers in terms of people having to own a bike or bring it into town.”
He also expressed his hope that the scheme would help people become more accustomed to cycling and that would perhaps result in greater demand for infrastructure of a higher quality.
Rosslyn Colderey, director in the north for Sustrans, said that bike hire schemes could be a great way to encourage more people to try a healthier form of transport, but echoed Hubble’s sentiments about infrastructure.
“With consistent, long-term investment the region can develop a high quality network where everyone feels safe to get on their bikes.”