A hi-tech bicycle-sharing service that lets riders borrow bikes and leave them at public parking locations has launched in the UK using Microsoft’s cloud platform.
Mobike has chosen Manchester as the first city in Europe to get its new cycling scheme, which has proved hugely popular in its native China.
The app-based service is run on Microsoft Azure, which means it’s reliable, secure and can cope with spikes in demand from the public.
The “Boris bikes” scheme has operated in London for many years, and sees users pay a small fee to pick up and drop off bicycles from docking stations located across the capital.
However, unlike a Boris bike, Mobike lets users leave their bicycles in any appropriate public parking location, without the need for a dock. Up to 1,000 bikes will be deployed in Manchester over the course of the next week, initially at “high-traffic locations such as Metrolink stations, university campuses and retail parks”, the company said.
After users download the Mobike app and sign up for an account, they can use it to find their nearest Mobike. They then scan the QR code on the bike, which automatically releases the smart lock on it, and ride away – the service costs 50p per 30 minutes. Parking the bike in a public parking place and manually closing the lock ends the trip, and makes it available to the next rider.
Mobike suggests leaving the bikes at a “preferred hub”, such as a rack near a train station or bus stop, or designated parking locations reserved by local business partners. As every Mobike is embedded with GPS technology and connected to the Azure platform, the bikes can be located wherever they are left via the app, and easily found by the next user.
Alex Montgomery, Business Lead for Azure IOT and AI at Microsoft UK, said: “Mobike is a great example of how companies can use Azure to improve the lives of millions of people. The cornerstone of Mobike’s offering is customer convenience. No matter where you are in Manchester, the intelligence built into our cloud platform will help you find the nearest Mobike, so you can get to where you need to go, quickly and easily.
“Microsoft has been carbon neutral since 2012, and we fully support environmentally-friendly forms of transport. We are proud to be helping the public in Manchester get around, stay fit and protect the planet, all at the same time.”
The silver and orange bikes, which are designed to be maintenance-free and last four years, feature chainless shaft transmission; non-puncture airless tyres; a lightweight, aluminium, anti-rust frame; disc-brakes and five-spoke wheels.
Mobike launched in April last year, initially in Shanghai, and now operates more than five million bikes, with 20 million rides completed every day in China and Singapore. Last week the company announced it will expand into Japan.
In Mobike’s first year of operation, users have cycled more than 2.5 billion kilometres, equivalent to a reduction in CO2 emissions of more than 610,000 tonnes.
The company will be able to cope with high demand in the UK because when more people use the service, Azure automatically increases the amount of processing power in the cloud that Mobike needs to ensure the app will continue to run smoothly.
Steve Pyer, General Manager of Mobike UK, said: “Our aim is to be responsible, sustainable and innovative. We’re confident that Manchester and its residents will immediately see the benefits of our services, and the city will become a showcase for the urban transformation that is possible when cycling usage rises, and city planning leverages smart data.
“We are already in talks with a number of other cities around Europe, and are sure the successful [Manchester] pilot will be the first of many partnerships, allowing us to make cycling the most convenient and affordable choice for those in cities all around Europe.”
Manchester is home to 2.7 million people, but less than 5% of journeys in the city are made by bike, according to the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign, despite the area being home to the UK National Cycling Centre.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, hopes Mobike will change that.
“I want to see many more people swapping their cars for bikes in Greater Manchester and I will take a positive approach to promoting cycling across our city-region. This scheme could help make cycling more accessible to people,” he said.
“If successful, it could play an important part of our long-term plans for cycling in the region and for making travel easier and more sustainable.”
BikeRight! is the largest bicycle training organisation in the UK, and has its head office in Manchester. It said a service such as Mobike was well overdue in the city.
“Mobike is the long-awaited bike share scheme for Manchester,” Liz Clarke, Managing Director of BikeRight!, said. “By being visible on our streets, these colourful bikes will help create the well-needed cycling culture in the city region. Cycling is the most efficient and clean form of transport, ideal for urban areas, and by having a bike share scheme cycling is much more visible.
“BikeRight! looks forward to playing a part in getting more people cycling and using Mobikes to get around.”
Mobike recently raised $600 million in a financing round led by Tencent Holdings, and followed by other key investors such as sequoia, TPG and Hillhouse Capital. It has raised more than $1 billion since January.