Think of Chinese cities and the first image that comes to mind is a sprawling mass of traffic congested roads and an over powering smog blanketing its inhabitants. In 2004 Shanghai even banned cycling in its city centre to make it more comfortable for cars. But the country is seeing a return of the humble bicycle in the form of bike sharing schemes more reminiscent of Dutch utopian concepts.
China’s two biggest bicycle sharing services have just landed $200 million in funding. Beijing based ofo is now valued at over $500million. Bike sharing has become an immediate fix for commuters allowing them to get to train and bus stations quickly and efficiently. The total number of shared bikes in China now outnumbers the world fleet outside of the country with the cities of Hangzhou, Taiyuan and Shanghai operating the world’s first, second and fourth bike-share schemes, respectively. By 2020 Hangzhou expects to expand its fleet to 175,000 bikes with users making an average of 240,000 trips a day. This compares to London’s average of about 35,000 trips a day.
The popularity of commuting to stations by bike is something of a return to the days when 63% of Beijingers would cycle as their primary means of transport. However those figures declined to only 14% between 1990 and 2010 as car ownership surged in China. The result? Grid-lock traffic and choking clouds of smog. As the roads have become less navigable the Chinese government is leading the way in looking for alternatives.