Mobike China: Synchronizing social and technological innovations towards sustainable urban transportation

The development of low-carbon transport models and sharing mobility are central to transforming carbon-intensive urban transportation systems and an important step towards achieving overall sustainable urban development. The rise of the sharing economy phenomenon has inspired numerous types of disruptive innovations with the potential to drive climate-smart urban transformation (Lan et al., 2017), particularly in the unique context of China.

Long-standing problems within the critical urban sector of transportation in China such as congestion, carbon-intensive transportation modes, overcrowded public transport and air pollution continue to attract global attention and pressure to address these conditions. Mega-metropolitan areas and cities require disruptive innovations to meet their low-carbon visions and global greenhouse gas reduction targets (GREEN-WIN, 2018).

Mobike is the world’s first free-floating bike-sharing (FFBS) scheme that began in Shanghai in April 2016 and now operates in more than two hundred cities across the world (GREEN-WIN, 2018). The Mobike service operates through an app-based platform that allows users to locate, secure and pay for a nearby bike within fifteen minutes. Each bike is equipped with a Location Based Service (LBS) system and unique Quick Response (QR) code so users can park the bike in any designated public bike parking space, providing Shanghai’s inhabitants with an alternative low-carbon commute. Mobike has over 200 million registered users worldwide and over 8 million bikes serving its users around the globe (GREEN-WIN, 2018).

At its launch, Mobike aimed to address the negative environmental impacts of the transportation sector by solving the last mile issue and synergistically aligning its green business vision with the Shanghai 2035 Master Plan, which chose green development as the key for the city’s sustainable transport system goals. The central objective of Shanghai 2035 is to achieve more than 85 per cent green transport. The Master Plan identified low-carbon transport systems such as Mobike’s FFBS scheme as promising development areas (Ma et al., 2017). To further reduce its carbon footprint and ensure the longevity of the bike’s product life cycle, Mobike designed and manufactured its own bikes with durable (4+ years) and weather-resistant materials (solid aluminium body). In April 2018, Mobike was acquired by Meituan-Dianping, China’s largest provider of on-demand web services.