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September 22, 2017

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Two wheels good as Mobike arrives in US

THE bike-sharing trend which has taken China by storm has arrived in the US capital with the launch of new services aimed at promoting two-wheeled travel without the hassle of a docking station.

China-based giant Mobike and California-based LimeBike each began deploying hundreds of bikes, which have GPS location tracking and are unlocked with a smartphone app, under an agreement with Washington transport officials.

On Wednesday, the bright-green LimeBikes started appearing in downtown Washington along with the orange-colored Mobikes, both offering 30-minute rides for US$1. A third startup, California-based Spin, is set to begin operating in the capital later this month.

By eliminating docking stations, the startups allow riders to locate and unlock a bike with a smartphone, and then drop it virtually anywhere.

The new systems will undercut the docked bike-sharing network by offering rides at half the price of the competition and free users from worrying about whether docking stations are available.

LimeBike, which is now in 10 US cities and has raised US$12 million since it was founded in early 2017, aims to be a complement in the transport system and will deploy 400 bicycles in Washington DC.

“It’s all about reducing barriers,” said LimeBike market launcher Jason Wilde, who was showcasing the new bikes on Farragut Square, a few blocks from the White House.

Even at US$1 per ride — with half-priced rides for students — and without a government subsidy, Wilde said the company is betting the model will be successful by expanding the market.

Until now, the only option for Washingtonians had been Capital Bikeshare, which has 440 stations with 3,700 bikes to be rented from US$2 for 30 minutes.

Wilde said Washington “is home to one of the most successful existing bike-share programs, but it has not reached as many people as it should.”

Washington is the first US city for Mobike, which has distributed some 7 million bicycles in China and elsewhere.

“We are thrilled to call Washington DC Mobike’s first home in North America,” Hu Weiwei, its co-founder and president, said as the company began deploying some 200 bikes.

“Mobike is committed to developing a global bike-share culture by collaborating closely with cities, and the US capital is key in achieving this.”

Mobike, which faces fierce competition in China, is eying other US cities, said Rachel Song, its US general manager.

Outside China, Mobike has launched in Thailand, Malaysia and a handful of British cities including London.

Mobike has recently raised US$600 million to fuel its global expansion.

Its orange bikes feature a chainless shaft transmission and airless tires, aiming to be maintenance-free for up to four years.

The dockless system has become a craze in China, with more than 10 million bikes in use.

But it has also led to a cluttering of city centers with broken or badly parked bikes.


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