BEIJING, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Ouyang Huiyu, a student at Tsinghua University in Beijing, scanned the QR code on a bicycle. Within seconds it was unlocked and he could cycle off across campus.
Tsinghua covers a vast 356 acres, which makes biking a crucial part of daily campus life.
"Bicycles are the easiest way to get about," said Ouyang, adding that most of his classmates at Tsinghua also make use of shared bikes.
THE LAST KILOMETER
Bicycle sharing kicked off in China with city government programs, but the bicycles had to be locked in designated racks, and the point-to-point system never really caught on.
Although China's public transportation system is now better than ever, coping with rush-hour has always proven difficult.
Bicycle-sharing services lighten this burden and have the added benefits of making the first or final kilometers of a commute a more pleasant experience and being good for the cyclists' health.
There are close to 400 million bicycles in China, according to Dai Wei, founder and CEO of ofo, one of the biggest bike-share providers.
"Whenever I was in need of a bicycle, I found all of the bikes around belonged to other people," Dai told Xinhua, so he began to think about how everybody could have a bicycle at a moment's notice.
Dai, a graduate of Peking University, deployed the first batch of ofo bikes on campus in September, 2015 and the idea was an instant hit.
"We now have 15 million users in 40 cities, with more than 200 million completed rides," said Dai. "We expect to have 20 million bicycles on the streets this year in at least 200 cities. We will make ends meet this year and become profitable next year."
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Last weekend, Zhao Li biked from Beijing's CBD to the Forbidden City with her friend.
"It's environmentally friendly and biking used to be an important part of life in Beijing. Shared bicycles are bringing it back into fashion," she said.
According to BigData-Research, 19 million people used shared bikes last year and that number is expected to rise to 50 million this year.
Ofo is the biggest provider with 800,000 distinctive yellow bicycles throughout China; in second place, Mobike's silver and orange bikes number 600,000. Most users are between the ages of 25 and 35.
The market is still growing. U-Bicycle, founded in July last year, occupies three cities in south China's Guangdong Province. U-Bicycle is working closely with Alibaba's Sesame Credit to reward proper usage. Good sharers increase their credit score at Sesame Credit and when if their score reaches a certain level, they can use the service without putting down a deposit.
Although vandalism, theft and generally antisocial behavior are occasionally reported, Dai said the concept is widely popular and supported, so misbehavior is tailing off.
"Supervising together means enjoying together," he said.
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CYCLE
China's bicycle-sharing is heading overseas. Bluegogo became the first in January, according to Sun Ye, its COO.
"We are operating in San Francisco, where our customer base is steadily growing," said Sun.
Founded in November last year, Bluegogo now covers six Chinese cities with five million registered users.
Ofo is heading to Singapore, Silicon Valley and London.
"We hope to introduce dockless bicycle-sharing overseas. There is no reason why it should not be as popular in other countries too," said Tang Ke, deputy PR director with ofo.
At home, ofo moved off campus in November, but it is still working with over 200 colleges in China to provide bicycles for students.
TWO WHEELS GOOD, FOUR WHEELS ALSO GOOD
"Bicycle and car sharing are two of the most rapidly developing markets," Xu Guangjian, vice dean of Renmin University's School of Public Administration, told Xinhua.
A popular car sharing provider, EZZY, has a fleet of about 500 electric cars, including the BMW i3.
Rapid urbanization, ballooning internet use and huge numbers of comparatively new driving permit holders are a perfect storm for car sharing, said Fu Qiang, founder of EZZY.
While most shared cars have to be picked up and returned to designated stations, EZZY users can leave the cars in any parking lot in urban Beijing.
EZZY staff conduct maintenance overnight, charge the vehicle and clean it, Fu said. "EZZY hopes our cars brighten the scenery of Beijing's urban life."
EVCARD, an electric car sharing program launched by SAIC Motor Corporation Limited in 2013 has close to 400,000 registered users and 9,000 cars across China, 6,000 of them in Shanghai.
"Most of private car owners drive their cars for only two to three hours per day," said Chen Jing, marketing manager of EVCARD. "The government supports our program with parking lots and charging post subsidies."
"Shared bicycles are convenient for short trips and enable seamless connection between the people and public transportation," said Renmin University's Xu, adding that they also reduce traffic jams and help air quality.
As an emerging service industry, bicycle-sharing brings hope that the declining bicycle industry can find a better model, said Guo Xia of Neonatal Economics.
"There are various sharing demands awaiting entrepreneurs and companies to explore," Guo said.
EVCARD now has 2,600 parking spaces in Shanghai. "We plan to share our spaces and charging posts with other cars," Chen said. "This is what sharing is all about."