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Can Dockless Bikes Fix China’s Air Pollution Crisis?

Bikes offer cities the chance to save themselves from choking to death. Air pollution is at dangerous levels in scores of cities around the world. The benefits of cycling are well known, rental schemes have been around for decades, gradually becoming more and more automated. Now bike share companies in China are breaking the last bike rental barrier, no docks. Leave your bike where you want.

Of the top 15 bike share programmes in the world thirteen are based in China. London doesn’t make the top 10, having only 16,500, Paris takes fifth with 21,000. Hangzhou has a population the size of London and the largest share system, 84,100 bikes.

Dockless bikes waiting to get thrown in an alleyway
Dockless bikes all in a row

These bikes are cheap, lacking the sturdiness of docked schemes models. Opting for quantity over quality is purposeful. Favouring swarms over one or two golden geese. Dockless bike share companies are asking users to police each other. The reward is simple; spot bad behaviour and get lower premiums. Get caught abusing the bikes and the price increases.

While good for public health, existing city economies are facing another wave of disruption. After the taxi system was shocked by ride hailing apps, dockless bikes present another attack from technological companies. While ride-hailing dominance shifted who drivers work for, the redundancies aren’t on the scale of full automation. Dockless bikes may reduce some demand for taxis and Ubers.

Dockless companies have a way to go before they’re fully accepted. From a street level perspective they present a fly-tipping problem and cut into some taxi business customer base.

Instances have occurred where hundreds of bike are dumped in vacant lots and alleyways. Disgruntled motorbike taxi drivers, security guards and rival bike share companies have all been accused. Users of the bikes are also adjusting to where exactly to leave the bikes. Efforts to concentrate the locations where bikes are left are improving the operation.

Dockless bikes take over Chinese city
Dockless bikes are painted bright colors so you can find them in the hedge.

Each bike can be tracked and mapped. Meaning dockless bikes offer another metric for analysing smart cities. It is hoped that normalising cycling as a method of transport will feedback into city planning. Further increasing the amount and quality of cycle lanes in a way which sees more people adopt cycling.

Dockless Bikes Cut Air Pollution

Most of the air pollution produced in Hangzhou, the world leader in bike sharing, comes from vehicles. As demand for car ownership surges China faces a battle to shift its transportation system to a low carbon one. In addition to bikeshares, electric vehicles for public transportation are being introduced. China’s energy infrastructure as a whole is moving towards renewables with purpose.

Air pollution causes more immediate and tangible effects than slow climate change. It is not surprising that it is in the most polluted, where the air is most toxic humans are adapting the quickest. For the CCP to grow and become its best global-power self livable cities are essential.





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Mathew Sayer

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