By Yang Liu
Michael Perez, a freshman math major at Worcester State University, wanted to go to the grocery store, but he didn’t have a car. He downloaded the Ofo app and found a bike in the neighborhood using the built-in map. Then, he used the code to unlock the shared bike. It took him 15 minutes and one dollar to go from WSU campus to the store. Compared to more than 15 dollars by using Uber or a 30 minute walk, this was the more convenient alternative.
“It was my first try, and I felt good,” Michael said.
The bike that made Michael’s trip to grocery store so convenient is called an Ofo shared bike. The Ofo bikes, from one of the most popular shared bike companies in China, and the pioneer of an app-based bike sharing program, is becoming a growing trend in Worcester, and on our campus.
We had some Ofo bikes on campus last year, which attracted many students like Michael to try them. However, they seem to have disappeared this semester. According to Jess Evora, one of the Assistant Directors in the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development and who is now in charge of Ofo bikes on campus, it was just a trial run last fall. The Ofo company ran a three-month pilot in Worcester, which started in October and ended in December. Once the trial ended, they collected all of the bikes.
Julissa Rodriguez, a junior from WSU noticed these bikes on campus last semester.
“They are pretty easy to recognize because of the color. Although I haven’t tried them yet, I’ll try the shared bike system when the weather gets warmer,” Julissa said.
Jess has exciting news for WSU students and faculty. The Ofo company is going to assign around 20 to 30 shared bikes to the WSU campus next semester, rather than just assigning them to Worcester as a city, like last year. Before the fall semester, WSU and the Ofo company will ensure that everything has been arranged for students to use those bikes on campus. The campus-affiliated bikes will cost students and faculty half price per ride, which is 50 cents per hour.
Ashley, a Lyft driver in Worcester, thinks the Ofo bikes are a great tool for going out, especially for college students.
“I think they should put more bikes in universities. It will benefit college students more because they don’t own cars. It’s a good form of bridge transportation for bus and train riders,” she said.
Worcester is the second city in the U.S. to sign an agreement with the Ofo bike-sharing program. The Ofo company first launched 1,000 bikes to the streets of Seattle in July 2017. The world’s largest bike-sharing platform launched the program in Worcester with the unveiling of 400 bright yellow bikes in September 14, 2017.
The first bicycle-sharing company, Mobike, was founded in China in 2007. The Chinese bike-sharing industry is accelerating and going global. Since 2017, China has been introducing new bike-sharing systems in cities around the world, according to a report from the State Administration for Industry & Commerce of the People’s Republic of China.
The shared bike system is not only a way to get around, but also a lifestyle that is gaining popularity worldwide. The global development report of shared bikes conducted by Cheetah Lab, a data research institution, predicts that the number of global users of shared bikes will continue to grow, reaching 306 million by 2019, and the overseas market has great potential.
The convenience and low prices of shared bikes, which anyone over 18 can locate and use, riding them wherever they want within city limits, gradually exposes some shortcomings. Bike damage and random parking are two salient problems.
“I saw the news on Facebook that some kids damaged the shared bikes, and Worcester should figure it out,” Ashley said.
The damage of bikes is a common problem existing in a large proportion of Ofo-launched cities. Lack of direct supervision and the low production cost of bikes are the main reasons.
With a large number of shared bikes and with people in a hurry, randomly parking around the city becomes a serious problem. Bikes are sometimes parked in public entrances, on sidewalks, in roads, and on non-motorized lanes, leading to complaints from both users and city officials.
Some potential risks should be taken into consideration, as well. Bikes are not equipped with helmets, so riders may lack safe protection. There are some bike lanes and paths in Worcester, but not enough for the growing number of bike riders.
There is a long way to go in promoting shared bikes, but you will likely notice the shared bike system gaining popularity and becoming a larger trend in the future.
“Those bikes are easy to use and extremely convenient; I’ll for sure use them again,” Michael said.