By Debbie Yong
December 8, 2017

A giant pothole has emerged on the path to success for Chinese bike-sharing companies.

Authorities in China and in the global cities that start-ups such as Mobike and Ofo have expanded into are complaining that the pile-up of poorly parked and damaged bicycles in urban spaces are a public nuisance.

“The bike-sharing phenomenon has grown very quickly in the last few years, but the layout and infrastructure cities in China aren’t something that can be changed as quickly to accommodate this new trend,” said Zhang Siding, co-founder of Chinese bike-sharing company Ofo.

Zhang, who currently oversees Ofo’s fleet of 10 million rental bicycles across 200 cities in 20 countries around the world, said the company is taking a “serious look” into the issue. He spoke at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China on Friday.

“We ask ourselves,” he said, “Are people dumping our bicycles because they do not meet their needs, or do they naturally have this habit of destruction?”

To curb destructive tendencies, Ofo rolled out a credit score system in June of this year that penalizes antisocial behavior (such as bicycle dumping and traffic violations) and awards positive behavior (such as reporting lost or damaged bicycles). Users will be barred from using the service once all their points have been deducted.

Additionally, the company is closely examining its data on usage patterns to facilitate the re-distribution of bicycles, particularly around bus and train stations during peak hours, said Zhang. Its local teams around the world are also working with interest groups in each city to explore solutions.

In Guangzhou, for instance, Ofo has built a mechanism where traffic wardens and local NGOs such as bike safety interest groups can send feedback to the Ofo team whenever a pile-up occurs in any part of the city, “and we’ll send people down to deal with it,” said Zhang.

“Bicycles and cities have always had a close relationship…and how we hope more individuals and groups in society can step forward to help us address this, as it affects the livelihoods of many people and the future of urban living,” he added. “It’s not a matter that our company alone can resolve.”

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