UK is on the road to a cy­cling rev­o­lu­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - Conal Urquhart The au­thor is a se­nior edi­tor at China Daily UK. Con­tact the writer at conal@mail.chi­nadai­

Acy­cling rev­o­lu­tion is hap­pen­ing in the United King­dom. Few have no­ticed it yet, but Chi­nese short-time rental bi­cy­cles are ap­pear­ing on Bri­tish streets. As is the case in Chi­nese ci­ties, they will soon be ev­ery­where.

Rid­ers need to be able to find a bike on ev­ery street cor­ner for the busi­ness model to work, and the op­er­a­tors an­nounce an in­crease in the num­ber of bikes they of­fer, ev­ery week it seems.

Mo­bike leaped ahead of its main com­peti­tor, Ofo, this week with the an­nounce­ment of a part­ner­ship with Bri­tish Cy­cling, the gov­ern­ing body for Bri­tish bike rid­ing, to en­cour­age 2 mil­lion new cy­clists.

Mo­bike and the other new ar­rivals, Ofo, OBike and Urbo, find them­selves in har­mony with the UK gov­ern­ment’s health and trans­porta­tion plans. There is a grow­ing con­sen­sus that in­creas­ing phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity im­proves the lives of mil­lions and would re­duce the bur­den on the Na­tional Health Ser­vice. One sur­vey found that peo­ple who cy­cled to work were 40 per­cent less likely to die in the course of the study than oth­ers.

It is also much eas­ier for the au­thor­i­ties to find more space for bi­cy­cles than it is to build more roads or cre­ate more pub­lic trans­porta­tion ca­pac­ity.

Julie Har­ring­ton, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Bri­tish Cy­cling, said it is hoped that Mo­bike will pro­vide ac­cess to bikes for peo­ple without one.

In re­turn, Bri­tish Cy­cling will fa­cil­i­tate Mo­bike’s en­try into 15 new towns. The com­pany op­er­ates in Manch­ester and the Eal­ing area of west Lon­don and will open in New­cas­tle next month. Ofo op­er­ates in Cambridge and Ox­ford and has started in the Hack­ney area of east Lon­don.

As the scale of op­er­a­tions in­creases, so the scope for mis­use and the phe­nom­e­non of bikes block­ing pub­lic ar­eas — as has hap­pened in China — be­come much greater.

The prospect of more eas­ily avail­able bikes is won­der­ful for every­one who can take ad­van­tage of them, but many will find that the fear of cy­cling on the road with cars and trucks, which stopped them from buy­ing a bike in the first place, will also pre­vent them from us­ing one. In that case, bike-hir­ing plans must wait for the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to carve out more bike lanes on Bri­tain’s nar­row ur­ban streets.

Many ci­ties al­ready have plans for rent­ing and re­turn­ing bikes to dock­ing sta­tions, which can be en­hanced by the new dock­less bikes.

One ad­van­tage the dock­less bikes have is cost. The Lon­don San­tander bikes — 13,000 in to­tal — are sub­si­dized by the state and San­tander Bank, but it re­mains one of the most ex­pen­sive pro­grams in the world. The new ar­rivals charge 75 per­cent less per half hour and do not re­quire a state sub­sidy.

One won­ders how the new bikes will make a profit, as ex­ist­ing pro­grams do not. Even if the bikes do not need reg­u­lar re­pairs, they will still need to be shep­herded and kept pre­sentable, which will in­volve staffing costs. A charge of 50 pence (67 cents) for 30 min­utes means each bike can yield a max­i­mum of 24 pounds ster­ling per day — if used con­tin­u­ously, which will al­most never hap­pen.

Maybe the commercial ap­peal is the data that the bikes will col­lect. The ex­ist­ing plan in Lon­don has smart docks but not smart bikes. The bi­cy­cles of Mo­bike and oth­ers trans­mit data all the time. This would be of use to city plan­ners and aca­demics, but would it be use­ful to ad­ver­tis­ers, who would pay ma­jor amounts for it?

While the an­swers to th­ese ques­tions are worked out, the UK is likely to see a mas­sive in­crease in bi­cy­cles avail­able for any­one to hire at a low price. Re­duc­ing pol­lu­tion and cre­at­ing a fit­ter pop­u­la­tion would be quite a rev­o­lu­tion.

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