Noticed the new bright orange bikes dotted around Chiswick and West London?  Yes, these are part of the new “Mobike” smart bike-sharing platform which allows subscribers to rent bikes using an app on their smartphone.

Mobike is a station-free bicycle sharing system, based in Beijing and extremely popular in China – it is the largest bike-sharing company in the world.  It already operates in over 160 Chinese cities, and recently they have been expanding worldwide to countries such as Italy and Malaysia.

For their first trial in the UK, they deployed hundreds of Mobikes in Manchester, and following their success, now have three schemes set up in London. The three areas currently allocated are Islington, Ealing and Hounslow.  Mobike agreed with Hounslow Council that they could trial the bikes in Chiswick and Brentford for one year, and they have been quickly set up around the area.

Bikes are located using the app to find your closest Mobike.  You scan a QR code on the bike and it is automatically unlocked.  From then on, it costs 50p per 30 minutes to use within a designated area.

Mobikes are a cheap and efficient way to travel, but are they friendly to your environment as well as being environmentally friendly?  Because they do not require designated parking stations, Mobikes can be parked anywhere.  However, many Mobikes appear to be abandoned in unsuitable places.  This could either be because it is inconvenient for some users to leave them in a reasonable place or just that others come along and move them for fun or to get them away from their own properties.  Although the bikes’ wheels are locked, they are still portable.  On Mobike’s website, they advise users not to park the bike where it could block traffic or cause a disturbance, but it does not take into account that people can move them after users have finished with them.  In Manchester, the scheme has been adapted after many unattended bikes were left vandalised and unable to be used again.  Bikes were left in such random places that potential users were unable to find them on their app.  Bikes now have to be left in designated preferred locations or drop off points.

Local resident, Neal Dixon, informed me, “We’ve had a Mobike almost every other day, leaning against our garden wall.  I’ve checked with neighbours and it’s nothing to do with them.  It’s not that it causes any problems, but I worry that it will fall over in this winter weather and cause an accident to someone passing as we live near a home for the blind.  I see that they are useful, but I wish there was a way to prevent them being left like that without anyone appearing to take responsibility.”

Mobike’s solution to reward people who report badly parked bikes and sanction people who cause the problem, is not satisfactory as it could take days for abandoned bikes to be moved if nobody subscribes to use them.  And rewards and punishments are not applicable to anyone who does not register as a Mobike subscriber. Residents may have to resort to registering and paying to unlock the bikes themselves in order to move them to a better spot.

Corey Hamilton Lane

Hampton School