To be or not to be dockless: Empirical analysis of dockless bikeshare development in China

Tianqi Gu, Inhi Kim, Graham Currie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

162 Citations (Scopus)


This paper discusses the development of shared bike programs in China, especially the innovative dockless bikeshare (DBS) system, using up-to-date empirical analysis. Bicycle sharing programs had existed in China since 2008 but overall bicycle mode share decreased until 2016 when DBS emerged. A comparison of classical city docked bikeshare (BS) programs found that government-oriented operators and a low financial threshold for users were the keys to the success of docked BS in China. In less than two years, a new, innovative, flexible, shared bicycling system – the DBS – has grown from nothing to a substantial 23 million fleets, covering over 200 cities and regions, making docked BS appear insignificant. It is a highly capital-driven, privately-operated business model, largely deployed in cities in conjunction with urban railway systems and has achieved high penetration in mega cites (e.g., 0.135 fleet/resident in Beijing). The development of DBS has experienced “free growth”, “regulated” and “limited” phases in a short time. While the central government initially held a “neutral-positive” policy towards this new system, the rapid expansion of dockless fleets soon exceeded cities’ limits and resulted in local government policies changing from “neutral-positive” to “neutral-negative”, and from August 2017, forceful limiting regulations have been implemented. DBS systems have advantages such as easy access using a smart phone, convenience of pickup and park and low cost. These merits attract its main users, who are found to be young, highly educated with almost equal numbers of males and females. DBS trips are mainly short, with high frequency and used for commuting purposes. DBS systems have burgeoned due to three factors: (1) those promoting user demands, (2) those winning partial support of government, and (3) those promoting operators’ supply. The results show that rapid growth of dockless bikeshare programs is mainly “supply-driven by operators” rather than by “user demand” or “triggered by government policy”. Financial sustainability, vandalism and threat to bicycle industry by DBS are the three main challenges that require investigation, especially, the fact that the booming DBS market may cause low profitability for local bicycle manufacturers and thus make the entire industry fragile. Feasibility of docked bikeshare and dockless bikeshare are compared and concluded in the end.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-147
Number of pages26
JournalTransportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Challenge
  • China
  • Docked bikeshare
  • Dockless bikeshare
  • Feasibility
  • Policy
  • Users’ characteristics

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