Bike Sharing in China | The Wrong Way
It is simple.
Take the smartphone, open the app and then scan the code or insert it manually and the lock combination appears. The bicycle it’s yours now.
Wait, the phone can’t scan the QR code and I can’t read the numbers, it’s all scratched away. Ok, let’s hope there is another bike ahead. This best describe my experience with the OFO service since its introduction in Xi’an.
In a recent article I have written for the Asia Times, I stress difficulties and problems of the Chinese sharing economy. The issue had been luring in my head for some time till I bumped into a too-enthusiast-to-be-believed article appeared on Bloomberg right about the Chinese sharing economy, stating that the future of this sector is there.
I was just waiting for lines like these.
China is big, and companies know it. Bike sharing ventures like OFO are just betting on it, with really small fees and widespread reaching. However, OFO has a weak point that is rooted not in the Chinese market but in the human nature.
The human factor, as I have named it, is a variable to be calculated in a business, even if it is not scalable. OFO presents its bicycles with a traditional manual mechanical lock with combination that is really simple to hack. And there are many ways to do it.
Somebody just scratch the codes away of the label after memorising the lock combination, gaining a sparkling new yellow bicycle. This is what I call Big Hack.
Other people, once they have managed to find a suitable bike, unlock it and, after a while, just stop the counter on the app, renting the bicycle theoretically for life (until someone else snitch it away). This is what I call Soft Hack.
Both the practices are commonly accepted and widely used.
OFO’s competitors seem to be more aware of the human factor. In fact, almost all of them have provided their bicycles with GPS locking systems, much more efficient in tackling the human factor down.
There is no combination to enter. You scan the QR Code, confirm and some servers send to the bicycle a release function that open the lock. That’s it. You got the bike and you gotta pay for it. Only, the bicycle requires manual locking after use, but would you ever dare to leave it unlocked knowing that it’s super controlled?
The sharing economy might give many opportunities, either to whom makes use of it to save money and to whom makes use of it to make money. However, companies and entrepreneurs that want to venture in this sector should always be aware of the human factor.