Despite the transport commission’s demands that impounded bikes be collected by hire bike companies, the cost of doing so, potential per-bike fines when coming forward, and increasing regulation means the firms are staying away, according to an investigation by Q Daily (in Chinese).

Piles of thousands of bikes can be seen on the edges of many cities in China. Their sheer scale and waste has been making headlines worldwide (though the companies are still being awarded for their environmental work). The hire companies themselves are not forthcoming with data for the number of bikes or the cost of dealing with them. But Q Daily discovered information from the Hangzhou Municipal Commission of Urban Management that the labor cost of retrieving a single bicycle is RMB 9.6. This is based on the commission spending RMB 220,000 on human labor costs to deal with 23,000 abandoned bikes belonging to nine hire companies in July this year.

Apply this to the Xinhua estimate of 30,000 bikes in Shanghai’s Hongxing Road bike cemetery and you’re looking at RMB 288,000 in labor costs alone at that one site. Nanjing Urban Management Bureau told the Yangzi Evening News that they have put a fine of RMB 50 per abandoned bike in the city’s bike graveyard and have notified the hire companies.

Cities such as Shanghai and Beijing also have requirements that 95% of bikes in circulation have to be in full working order, which means retrieved bikes would have to be checked and repaired. Q Daily calculated that wages for bike repairers add around RMB 3.3 to 6.7 per bike. This would put the per-bike retrieval cost at over RMB 60. That’s RMB 2 million for the Hongxing heap.

Even after this, further regulation in certain areas means further costs. Hangzhou requires a member of maintenance personnel for every 80 bikes. Since October, Shanghai requires five staff per thousand bikes. The 30,000 pile would need 150 staff it the bikes were back on the streets. Q Daily calculates monthly wages at RMB 5,000 to 8,000 per worker or a recurring monthly cost of RMB 750,000 for all, on top of the RMB 2 million for clearing the pile.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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