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Didi enters China's glutted bike-sharing market with own branded bikes

A child rides a bicycle past others from bike-sharing companies parked along a sidewalk in Beijing. Photo: AP

China's top taxi-hailing company Didi Chuxing has ventured into the country's red-hot bike-sharing market by launching its own bike-sharing service in Chengdu, capital city of southwestern Sichuan province.

Didi's Qingju Bike joins Bluegogo and Ofo to be integrated into the kaleidoscopic bike-sharing platform on Didi's ride-hailing app, which allows the users with good credibility to rent bicycles operated by Qingju Bike and Bluegogo with deposit-free option. Didi holds a 25 percent stake in Ofo, which is seen as one of the largest bike-sharing brands in China.

Didi is committed to building a big data-powered intelligent transportation system, which offers solutions for last-mile transportation, medium-distance travel and long-distance journeys. The car-hailing service provider has partnered with several Chinese city governments to build the smart transportation system, which would provide the local residents with innovative public transport options and more flexible mobility options by means of the company's machine learning-based algorithm and big data analytics.

Chengdu, the city where Didi initially launched its own branded shared bikes, is among a few cities which advocate for developing the bike-sharing business. In March last year, Chengdu's transportation committee and other related departments jointly published a document, calling for establishing an orderly bike-sharing system managed by the government, enterprises and users. On the contrary, some first-tier cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou last year imposed bans on the further deployment of shared bikes out of concern that the increasing number of shared bikes would lead to illegal parking and intensify traffic congestion.

Didi is figuring out ways to ease the local governments' concerns. At a smart transportation-themed summit held last week, Didi Founder and Chief Executive Officer Cheng Wei shared his idea about the future development of transportation in China, saying that the company intended to become a transportation platform which connects people with different transportation tools. Cheng also discussed his blueprint for helping the local governments build smart transportation cities.

"The big data about transportation in many Chinese cities is of the best quality in the world. It is like a 'gold ore', which contains huge social value that could be used by the cities' transportation departments in more efficiently managing the urban traffic," said Cheng.

Didi is planning a transportation evaluation system that every partner city could depend on to reduce traffic congestion by 20 percent, Cheng said, adding that the company would join hands with 10 cities in 2018 to work on a set of transportation evaluation standards.

In this aspect, Ofo has stolen a march by rolling out a transportation management platform last week to share big data of shared bikes with the first batch of 20 Chinese cities. The big data provided by the platform includes information about the number of shared bikes deployed, bike parking locations and the distances traveled by the riders, which helps the cities better manage the public transportation.

Didi's direct foray into the bike-sharing market came just two weeks after it partly took over the operation of Bluegogo, which was once the country's third-largest bike-sharing company. In its heyday, Bluegogo had 20 million registered users and daily bookings of 3 million rides. But in late-2017, the startup announced bankruptcy after it reportedly suffered cash chain rupture and was unable to refund its users' deposits. Therefore, the takeover of Bluegogo and including it into its comprehensive bike-sharing platform could be considered as an easier way to consolidate the user base of Didi in the bike-sharing sector.

The launch of Qingju Bike also followed Didi's failure in persuading Ofo to merge with archrival Mobike. Didi is the largest shareholder of Ofo and its proposal for a merger between Ofo and Mobike, the country's two largest bike-sharing service providers, was opposed by the management of both companies, who reportedly feared losing control in the new company. So, that could be a key reason behind Didi's launch of its own branded bike sharing service in Chengdu.

What's more, Didi is also eyeing the electric bike sharing business in an effort to improve its product portfolio, which the company wants to include Internet-based taxi, free-floating shared bike, shared electric bike and even shared electric car.

The future transportation tools will follow the trend of intelligent technology, sharing and new energy adoption, said Cheng at last week's summit.


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