Chinese Bike-Share Service Vows to Stop Child Riders After Death

Using the Ofo bike-sharing app to rent a bicycle in Shanghai.

Photographer: Imaginechina

China’s bike-sharing companies face a new challenge following the accidental death of an 11-year-old boy in Shanghai: how to get under-aged kids off their brightly colored bicycles.

Beijing-based Ofo Inc. promised on Tuesday to find ways to prevent kids from accessing its service, after a child user died in a car accident on Sunday. Chinese law bans children under the age of 12 from riding bicycles on public roads.

The incident comes amid red-hot competition between Ofo, Mobike Inc. and a number of bike-sharing companies that have sprung up over the past year offering near-free rides in many cities. The industry has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars from investors such as Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Temasek Holdings Pte, betting that bike-sharing will go mainstream and yield valuable user information. But its rapid rise has overtaken municipal laws, leaving regulators scrambling to govern their expansion.

Now, they may also have to convince authorities that their services are safe. The accident involving an Ofo bike happened on a busy road in downtown Shanghai on Sunday afternoon, when a coach hit the juvenile rider. It was the first known deadly traffic incident involving an under-aged bike-sharing user. By Tuesday morning, it had become an intense topic of discussion on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter.

Local authorities have yet to disclose the cause of the incident. Ofo said it’s cooperating in the investigation and is doing its best to come up with “a set of effective mechanisms” that bars under-aged riders. Bright colors adopted by each competitor -- Ofo is a canary-yellow while main rival Mobike is orange -- are designed to differentiate their brands but may entice younger users.

“We’re heart-broken,” Ofo said in an emailed statement. “Developing a set of procedures to avoid another tragedy is our priority.”

Authorities in Shanghai had expressed concerns about under-aged bikers prior to Sunday’s accident. According to the Shanghai Daily, major players including Mobike and Ofo have been called into meetings with traffic police and education commission officials over concerns about children using their bikes. They pledged to install warning signs on bicycles and limit supply in areas such as schools, the newspaper reported.

Riding a bicycle can be a dangerous exercise in many Chinese cities. The rise of private cars has contributed to a steep decline in bicycle usage and the degradation of dedicated infrastructure. Bike paths are often clogged with parked vehicles, scooters and small electric cars.

For Gadfly’s take on bike-sharing in China, click here

Still, bike-sharing has exploded over the past year thanks to perennial traffic jams and a bonanza of subsidies offered by various rivals hoping to gain market share. Rides are often free for users and bicycles can be easily parked at destinations. Mobike said in a separate statement that its system, which requires real-name registration and smartphone verification, has been effective at banning under-12s from its platform.

— With assistance by Yuan Gao, and David Ramli

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