ofo & mobike Research Case Study

Understanding Bike Sharing Supply & Demand in the Guangzhou City Center Area


After spending 4 hours (3:30PM to 7:30PM) on a Thursday observing and conducting ethnographic research (full report) focused around a busy exit of a metro station in Guangzhou, I was most intrigued at why:

The flow of bikers riding in & out of the metro station exit seem to be more “natural” for mobikes than ofo bikes.

“Natural,” in the sense that in a span of 4 hours, 4 ofo vans pulled up to manually place additional bikes compared to only 2 vans for mobike. And despite ofo bikes constantly outnumbering all other brands, mobikes, never more than 1/4 of ofos, appeared to be used and prioritized by riders more.

To explore this observation further, I chose to:

  1. specify my research by focusing on the supply and demand of ofo & mobikes
  2. diversify my research by visiting multiple & different locations within Guangzhou’s vibrant, City Center area
  3. quantify my research by taking hard counts of and comparing the true +/- of bikes riding in & out of a set radius while continuing to monitor the impact of vans manually dropping bikes on the supply & demand of ofos & mobikes

Heading back into the field, my locations were:

  1. the initial metro exit I was at as a transition area
  2. the entrance of a mall as a midday destination area
  3. the front of a residential area as both a destination/beginning point

At each location, I counted:

  1. the number of bikes there were to begin with
  2. the number of bikes coming in & out by individual riders
  3. the number of bikes being added or taken away by vans

I then visualized the data by charting my findings in roughly 10 minute intervals to create the following analysis:

supply & demand graph aimed at analyzing the +/- of bikes coming in & out of 3 different locations
“From the chart above and the field study’s key findings, it is clear that Stagnant supply does not only happen to ofo, as I’d first witnessed at the metro exit. Rather, it’s happening to mobike, ofo, and other smaller bike sharing competitors.”

Based on ofo’s 62.7 million monthly active users and mobike’s 58.4 million (according to iResearch’s data in May 2017), it is clear that many people are using this product around the world. But specifically for Guangzhou’s City Center area, why are there so many bikes that are unused everyday? Why?

Interviews: Figuring out the “Why?”

To gain greater context on why there is low demand for bike sharing, I interviewed 10 individuals (who lived, worked, and/or engaged in daily activities in the Guangzhou City Center area) on their commuting habits.

With the insights from the interviews (full report), I found that the 3 biggest reasons why there’s a low demand for bike sharing in the city center area are:

  1. Ineffective placement of bikes
    Individuals have encountered situations where they’ve wanted to use bike sharing but couldn’t find any as well as times when they did not need to or couldn’t use bike sharing but saw an abundance near them.
  2. Lack of efficiency (getting from A to B)
    In close distances (under 10 minutes walking), most prefer to walk because it’s faster to navigate through cars & pedestrians on feet. In longer distances, most prioritize taking the metro because it’s the fastest and not slowed down by traffic. Even when riding conditions are ideal (not accounting for interrupting tunnels, construction, lack of bike lanes), many still noted of having to spend time finding their ideal bikes (clean & functional), as well as parking it in a suitable area near their destination.
  3. It’s unsafe
    First and foremost, the lack of physical bike lanes force riders to either compete for space in driving lanes with cars or on the sidewalk with pedestrians. The larger problem, however, is the lack of effort on regulating & teaching drivers & bikers how to coexist with one another. Bikers do not wear helmets, know how to use hand signals, and ride recklessly while drivers do not pay enough attention to or know how to cope with the riders on the road.
  • (additional observation) Ineffective economic incentive
    Even though bike sharing (at less than a few cents per ride) is less expensive than most competing options (metro, bus, taxis), the economic incentive does not seem to win individuals over. From the interviews, it’s realized that many tend to prioritize time, safety, comfort and other variables over cost of transportation.

My research is always ongoing as I will continue to update this report. Please reach out if you have any insights or thoughts to share, or would like clarification on anything.