Chinese city wants to regulate bike rental platforms with social credit system

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share bikes pile ofo mobike reduced
Abandoned bicycles from various bike rental companies including ofo and Mobike. (Image credit: 123RF)

Tired of seeing heaps of rental bikes piling up on the sidewalk and blocking traffic, the Chinese city of Foshan wants to punish inconsiderate bike riders through the local social credit system.

Users of ofo, Mobike, and other bike rental platforms that park their bicycles disorderly will be blacklisted with offenders registered at the city’s public credit information management system, according to the guidelines draft published by the Foshan local government on October 15. The blacklist will be provided to the local authorities by the bike rental companies themselves in order to “promote the construction of a personal credit system,” Southern Metropolis Daily reports.

Foshan, a city in China’s Guangdong Province, has over 7 million inhabitants and 4 million bike rental users, according to the report. The city now hosts 400,000 shared bicycles on its roads and like many Chinese cities, it has been struggling with the influx of bikes and poor parking manners since the rise of the bike rental trend.

Companies themselves have tried to introduce new measures to encourage proper parking and prevent theft. Mobike introduced an internal credit score in February which charges renters who misuse their bikes up to RMB 100 for 30 minutes of cycling.

However, bike rental platforms seem reluctant to punish users over parking violations as they still compete for market share. Integrating bike rental blacklists into social credit systems is a novel solution for cities. In April 2017, major bike rental companies signed, however, an information sharing agreement with China’s National Development and Reform Commission and the State Information Center.

Although the social credit systems have earned a bad (and somewhat misguided) reputation abroad, they are currently being trialed in several provinces and cities with each area deciding its own rules. The ultimate goal is to lay out foundations for an encompassing Social Credit System by 2020 which will integrate not only individual, but also government, legal, and enterprise scoring. Blacklists of debtors and law breakers are to become an important part of the system.

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In June this year, Mobike, HelloBike and other bike rental companies announced deposit-free rides in Foshan. The draft encourages enterprises to provide more bikes without deposit by using social credit scoring instead. HelloBike is already offering deposit-free bike rentals nationwide after integrating its platform with Alibaba’s Sesame Credit.

The draft of “Foshan’s Guiding Opinions on Encouraging and Regulating the Development of Internet Rental Bicycles” does not specify if the blacklisted bike rentals will face any repercussions if included into the Municipal Public Credit Information Management System. According to the draft:

Enterprises should establish and improve the credit evaluation system and management system of renters and implement incentive mechanisms for trustworthiness and punishments for dishonesty.

The draft also brings other guidelines for standardization of bike rental services, including managing deposits through the Foshan branch of China’s central bank People’s Bank of China and working with the local transportation department’s information system.

In the future, bike rental companies in Foshan will have to mark parking zones in their mobile phone apps according to the city’s requirements and enable geo-fencing. The city is prepared to fulfill its end of the bargain by designating parking spaces and optimizing bike lanes.

Users will also be given more payment options aside from WeChat and Alipay—the two main mobile payment systems—including QR code payments, local bus cards, and even NFC at a certain point.