App-based bikesharing takes a hit after Mobike suffers at the hands of vandals

It’s been anything but a smooth ride for Mobike in Manchester, England.

The world’s largest app-based bikesharing scheme says it’s pulling out of the city because too many of its bikes are being vanadalized and stolen.

The departure marks the first time Mobike has been forced to exit a location in such circumstances.

Operating in more than 200 cities around the world, the service lets riders use their smartphone to unlock one of its dockless bikes and then charges a fee according to how long the rental lasts.

But on Thursday, September 6, the Chinese company suspended its service in Manchester, saying the losses to its fleet were unsustainable. In July alone, it said 10 percent of its two-wheelers in the city were either trashed or stolen.

In a tweet, the company promised to refund all deposits and wallet balances to its Manchester-based riders. Mobike’s remaining bicycles will be transferred to other U.K. cities where it operates, among them London, Oxford, and Cambridge.

Mobike’s exit highlights one of the main challenges faced by app-based bikesharing services, which have proliferated around the world in the last few years.

When Mobike launched in Manchester in June 2017, it claimed its bicycles were theft- and vandal-proof. Seemingly determined to test the claim, a small number of people set about destroying the bikes in a variety of ways.

Mobike’s Manchester woes have been chronicled in a steady stream of social media posts over the past year, with bikes shown vandalized, thrown in canals and rivers, and even hanging from lampposts. Some vandals cut off the bikes’ locks and removed their electronic tracking devices. In other cases, bikes simply went missing.

Poor planning?

But local officials were quick to defend the city, blaming Mobike for failing to properly prep the scheme’s launch.

“The scheme wasn’t properly thought out from the beginning,” Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, told the Manchester Evening News (M.E.N.) this week. An unnamed city official also claimed they’d tried to work with Mobike on how it could improve its service, “but they didn’t listen.”

Olympic cycling gold medalist Chris Boardman, the city’s first cycling commissioner, recently pointed out that Manchester isn’t the only city to have faced difficulties with a bikesharing scheme. Indeed, rival service Gobee quit France earlier this year after a whopping 60 percent of its bikes were either destroyed, stolen, or modified for private use in the three cities where it operated. In neighboring Belgium, the problem was even worse, with up to 90 percent of Gobee’s bikes stolen or damaged before it decided to exit there as well.

In the U.S., too, Baltimore Bike Share had to suspend its service for a while because some of its bikes were being vandalized or stolen, while a scheme in Philadelphia saw 50 bikes go missing in the space of two years.

Mobike has also departed Washington, D.C. and Dallas, Texas, but not because of issues concerning vandalism and theft. Rather, the company said it wasn’t allowed to install enough of its bikes for the scheme to work efficiently.

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