By Wayne Chan
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Living in Seattle or near a major metropolitan area, you’ve no doubt seen it — brightly colored bicycles parked randomly on street corners, unchained to any bike stands, and absent any chains or traditional locks to keep them secure.
It’s called “Bike Share” — anyone with a smartphone can sign up for any number of bike share companies through a dedicated app, find a nearby bike, assign it for your own use, and ride away to your desired destination. Seems like an environmentally friendly, win-win solution for everyone, right?
Well, even the best ideas can backfire without a little common sense.
Take China’s bike share situation.
It turns out that a number of companies in China have gone all in with the bike share business. They’ve set up shop in many of China’s largest cities and if you’ve ever gone to China, it seems like a perfect solution to streets packed with cars, adding to major pollution and congestion problems. Give the people access to bikes, and at least for some trips, you save a car trip? What could go wrong?
It seems that China’s bike share companies have watched the movie “Field of Dreams” a few too many times, because they seem to be working under the guideline of, “If you build it, they will come.” Tens of thousands of bikes, perhaps millions of them, have been produced and strewn about all over Shanghai and other large Chinese cities. So many of these bikes sit around unused, that the local authorities have begun stockpiling the bikes in empty lots just to keep pedestrian walkways open for the public.
The piles of bikes have actually become a mountain of bikes, filling up empty lots, parks, any spare inch of storage space.
Some of the bike share companies have gone out of business because they’ve run out of money after having produced so many bikes that go unused.
So, here’s my question. Maybe I’m missing something, but let’s say you’re the inventory manager in charge of one of these bike share companies. You walk outside with one of your bicycle procurement managers to inspect your current stock of bikes. You walk past a field stocked with your bikes, stacked on top of each other 15 feet high and the size of a football field. You have to watch your step, as you step over a few of them to avoid the possibility of a bicycle avalanche.
At some point during your inspection while walking past basically a battalion of bikes, wouldn’t it make sense for you to turn to your colleague and say, “You know Bill…do you think we might have enough bikes out there now?” And yes, I realize a manager for a bike share company in China is not likely to be named “Bill,” but I’ve always thought the name “Bill” was kind of funny, so there you go…
Maybe a manager really did ask Bill that very question, but if they did, Bill obviously didn’t agree and might have replied, “Are you kidding? I can still see the sun! We need more bikes!”
Some things are better left unexplained, I guess.
I’m just glad with all the times I’ve gone to China, I haven’t seen that many all-you-can-eat restaurants. If they do this with a bike business, can you imagine what a dumpling restaurant might do?
Wayne can be reached at email@example.com.