Reports of theft and vandalism have been rife since the dockless bike hire scheme arrived in June - so how many Mobikes are left?
It was billed as the ‘Uber of bikes,’ a pioneering new era of pedal power that would make dedicated docking stations a thing of the past and hassle-free commutes the new future. But within a month of wheeling 1000 of its shiny new vehicles into Manchester this June, Mobike was plagued with reports of theft and vandalism.
Photos of the distinctive orange-wheeled bicycles in various sorry states - locks snapped off, pulled to pieces, even thrown in the canal - were shared across social media, while The Guardian’s Helen Pidd complained of bikes ‘in bins and in back gardens…you wouldn’t blame Mobike for taking its remaining bicycles to a better-behaved city.’
It was a sad indictment on Manchester: chosen as the Shanghai-based company’s first destination outside Asia and making it home to the UK’s first non-docking station scheme of this scale.
"The amount of vandalism reports stabilised a few weeks into the scheme, and is now steadily declining"
The six-month pilot (which isn’t publicly funded) is backed by both Manchester and Salford councils and - as in Asia, where Mobike now operates five million bikes across 100 cities - enables users to rent a nearby bike using a cashless smartphone app, locate it using inbuilt GPS mapping and unlock it automatically by scanning a QR code on the bike. Cyclists can pick up and drop off hire bikes at any convenient legal cycle parking location, and journeys are charged at 50p per 30-minute period.
According to Mobike, foul play is discouraged both by user scores - leaving your bike unlocked may affect your score and result in higher charges next time round - and the bikes being ‘vandal-proof’. Hmm…
Yet, look beyond the negative media - the videos of yobs lobbing bricks at them, the reports of misbehaved users stashing them away in the backyards, the ‘abandonment’ in faraway destinations like Cheadle - and how bad really is Manchester’s Mobike problem?
According to Mobike's figures, of the 1000 put into circulation, 971 bikes are still on the road (accurate to September 25). That’s 29 out of commission, which equates to less than 3%. In other words, maintains Mobike UK General Manager Steve Pyer, reports of Manchester's Mobike problem are exaggerated to say the least.
In a statement to Confidential, he said: “In every city we have launched, we have observed a small element of misuse in the weeks following launch, but the number of issues always decrease. It is the case for Manchester: the amount of vandalism reports stabilised a few weeks into the scheme, and is now steadily declining.
"In addition to this natural decline, we have been working closely with Greater Manchester Police to keep these issues to an absolute minimum - and to ensure that, whenever possible, cases of vandalism are turned into positive learning experiences for the people involved. We expect that the successes of this collaborative approach will impact the amount of cases reported further."
"The scheme has been used properly and responsibly by the vast majority of people in Manchester and Salford," he continued, "and that reports of criminal activity only amount to a very small minority. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from local businesses and community centres who want to partner with Mobike and establish dedicated schemes for their employees.
"We’ve also heard from a lot of individual users about how much they love the scheme and how it’s impacted their journey to work and weekend activities. Both user and trip growth from the first 1000 bikes are far beyond our expectations - with the bikes in very high circulation.
"The impact has been so positive that we’ve been asked to expand the scheme within Manchester, and will communicate on this in more details in the next few weeks.”
And with Manchester's new environmentally-conscious metro mayor, Andy Burnham, on board ("it could play an important part of our long-term plans for cycling in the region"), it looks like Mobike won't be going anywhere fast... a bit like those who ride them, actually.
Free Mobike journeys today (Tuesday 10 October) for World Mental Health Day
To mark World Mental Health Day, Mobike is offering free journeys today as part of a collaboration with British Cycling. The partnership aims to inspire two million people to get their bike and create a healthier, happier and greener Britain.
Bikes will be free of charge all day, and those who haven’t yet downloaded the Mobike app can take advantage of a reduced £2 deposit (down from £29) until Wednesday 18 October.
Julie Harrington, British Cycling’s chief executive officer, said: “This is just the first step in our exciting new collaboration with Mobike which aims to get more people out of their cars and incorporate cycling into their daily routine. We know that a healthy body is vital for a healthy mind, so what better way to mark this year’s World Mental Health Day than with a bike ride.”
Results released last week from an eleven-year study featuring over 330,000 adults - the largest of its kind - found that 12% of cases of depression could have been prevented if participants took just one hour of exercise each week, regardless of age or gender.
And a separate survey, commissioned by British Cycling last month, revealed that 62% of North West participants found taking part in a sporting activity improved their mood; while 54% say it has made them feel less stressed.