How bike-sharing became a burden to Shanghai

Executive master students from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) travelled to Shanghai for a research project in June 2017. The study, which was led by RSM Professor Lucas Meijs, researched how customers experienced bicycle-sharing systems with docking systems versus those with GPS systems. They discovered that not only users are affected by the new model – non-users can’t ignore the wrongly placed bikes and ‘bicycle cemeteries’ throughout the city. Should users or the rental company be responsible for this non-sustainable process?

A system with shared bikes which can be located through a GPS app were first used in China, for example Shanghai, and is now also possible in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. These bikes can be picked up and left anywhere, and not necessarily at pre-indicated places like docking stations.

A student research team, led by RSM Professor Lucas Meijs, analysed the user experiences of the Shanghai GPS system. Customer experience factors that were taken into consideration were the price, quality, ease of use, service and past experience. Parttime Master Bedrijfskunde students Farida Boldewijn, Ynte Kramer, Sabine Gerritsen, Rahiela Lalmahomed and Hans van Paasen conducted street interviews to find answers about the customer experiences in Shanghai.

Unhappy non-users

Exploratory research shows that users are satisfied with the bicycles in Shanghai. They value the freedom through the use of the GPS bikes – they can be taken and parked anywhere so users practically never have to walk to their final destination. But the students also saw the negative side of this new bike-sharing system. Many messy users throw the bikes on sidewalks by building entrances, an inconvenience leading to an uprising of non-users.

While the GPS system gives the user control with the ‘picking up and dumping’ system instead of returning the bicycle to the provider, the non-user has no influence or control. This leads to a huge nuisance due to the company’s lack of regulation. The community of non-users will protest, for example by moving, pushing over or smashing the wrongly parked bikes because they’re trying to pass by or clear up the sidewalk.

Warning for entrepreneurs

There’s a growing resistance and growing aggression of non-users against the inconvenience of wrongly parked bicycles in Shanghai, says the research team. Although the GPS bike-sharing system is not a pure example of the shared economy, as the bikes are owned by a company and rented by users, the researchers argue that this opposition shows similarities with the resistance to Airbnb users in Amsterdam, a similar success story of the sharing economy. Non-users feel that they are not heard, and they focus their complaints on users, companies, and more and more also on the local government. This can affect the primary business earnings model when, for example, many bicycles are broken or Airbnb visitors feel unfairly treated by the neighbours.

The learnings from this Shanghai sharing system are a warning for (social) entrepreneurs who are stepping into the shared economy with modern technology. The needs and burdens must be distributed fairly, otherwise they copy problems of the old economy including the traditional means and forces of resistance.

Government regulations

These are issues new shared economy entrepreneurs seem to struggle with, especially as they usually don’t live in the communities where the nuisances are, say the researchers. This also calls for government regulations, as is now slowly set in place for Airbnb. Therefore, local governments in the Netherlands’ big cities should take action before the city centres are clogged up with wrongly parked share bicycles. Imagine the mess of several thousands of bikes if people would transfer by bike instead of walking from the central train station to universities nearby.

As a first step, the students recommend a licensing policy for companies who rent out bicycles. Shared bikes should also be treated exactly as bicycles from individual owners; it must be clear where they should and should not be left. If they are parked wrongly, they will be taken to the municipal depot. The important issue is that not the user, but the rental company (owner) will have to pick up the bike and pay a fine. If municipalities set such a policy, the company itself will be forced to take care of moving wrongly parked bikes to places where they should be parked. If the company does not comply, then their license should be removed and the company should be fined.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at


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