Monday 12 June 2017 05.56 BST
In a move that has the potential to reshape the look and feel of many cities, one of China’s biggest “dockless bike share” companies, Mobike, will announce today that it will officially launch in Manchester and Salford.
The plan from Mobike – which operates 5 million bikes in China and is backed by Foxconn and internet giant Tencent – has the blessing of both city councils and Transport for Greater Manchester. It will kick off at the end of June with an initial 1,000 bikes and is likely to expand dramatically from there.
Unlike in most western schemes, where shared bikes are rented from docks, in China many urban residents instead find available bikes via GPS and an app, and then unlock it with their phone. The “Uber for bikes” model has also seen virulent competition and bikes littered haphazardly around cities or dumped by the hundreds in bushes and alleyways.
Mobike’s announcement means it will competing overseas with one of its most successful domestic competitors, Ofo, who are also gearing up for global expansion.
“I would like to be in at least three cities in the UK by the end of the year,” said Joseph Seal-Driver, Ofo’s UK operations director. “An obvious place to go is London. That’s where there are real problems with congestion and air quality, in particular.”
Ofo had in fact beaten Mobike to the British market, with roughly 50 bikes in Cambridge as part of a pilot programme, but has not yet determined when it will expand. In the Ofo system, riders pay 50p for 30 minutes, with no access fee. By contrast, London’s cycle hires cost £2 to access the system for a day, but the first half hour of each ride is free, and users pay £2 for every 30 minutes thereafter.