Manchester city centre packs a lot into a relatively small space. It’s easy to walk across in 20 minutes, and there are free buses operating three circular routes, each running every 10 minutes, if you don’t want to walk. For logistical reasons, Mobike quickly stopped people using the bikes for treks out into the suburbs, or even to the media and technology district in Salford Quays, which would probably have been a popular trip.
Was blaming a small but noticeable vandalism and theft problem a convenient excuse for Mobike? ‘We didn’t tune our service to the needs of the city’ would be less acceptable to its investors and the press, after all.
Mobike says it may return with a rethought service in the future, but for now it continues to operate in other cities around the world.
When Uber launched in Manchester a few years ago, it was (its local general manager told me at the time) the first city worldwide to launch with the lower-cost UberX service rather than its more upmarket offering. This reflected the fact that students and young people without cars would likely be the best early customers to target in the city. They were right to do that. One template doesn’t work everywhere.
So, all those investors getting excited about the potential of 'last mile,’ engine-free transport options should be aware: rapid expansion without spending time to study local markets in detail will lead to failure.
Just don’t blame the locals when it happens.