Shareyellow paper wristbandsd-bike firms facing refund fight

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Shared bikes, some owned by Bluegogo and Coolqi, lay abandoned in Guomao, a major commercial area in Beijing, on Nov 30. Both companies have gone out of business. [Hu Qingming/For China Daily]

Lawyers offer help to get deposits back from bankrupt operators

Lawyers and a consumer protection watchdog have stepped in to help users of shared bikes get their money back after three major operators went bust last month.

Thousands of people complained of feeling shortchanged when the wheels fell off Bluegogo, Coolqi and Ming Bikes, as it looked like the deposits they had paid to register for these services were lost.

However, local lawyers associations are offering to file joint lawsuits against the bankrupt companies in a bid to get refunds for disgruntled customers.

"It"d be too time consuming and costly for an individual user to sue a shared-bike operator over a small deposit. But it"s a lot of money if you think about how many users are affected," Jiang Min, deputy director of the All China Lawyers Association, said on Wednesday.

"We fully support the local association in helping to represent users who have been unable to obtain refunds," he added.

Niu Qiao, deputy director of the Beijing Lawyers Association, said his organization has already started to collect evidence from victims to file an action against Bluegogo for breach of contract, Legal Evening News reported on Tuesday.

Bluegogo, which operated 830,000 iconic blue bikes nationwide, was shut down due to suspected financing problems. The company required users to pay a deposit of 200 yuan ($30) to use a mobile app to unlock its bikes.

Niu said the association will organize a group of attorneys to handle disputes related to shared bikes, as well as invite lawyers and judges to a workshop to discuss how to handle such cases.

"I followed the procedure on the Bluegogo app to get my deposit back on Nov 18 after learning that the company had gone out of business. It"s now been more than a month, and I still haven"t seen a penny," said Yin Ni, a 30-year-old housewife in Beijing.

She said she has given up hope of getting her money back. Users could still top up their Bluegogo account on Wednesday, but Yin said she has deleted the app "because most of its bikes are unusable due to a lack of maintenance".

Coolqi, which had known for its green shared bikes, and Ming turquoise bikes, have also been criticized over their failure to refund customers. Coolqi made users pay a deposit of 298 yuan.

The China Consumers Association said on Dec 21 it had reported Coolqi to police for suspected criminal activity after the organization was unable to reach the bike company to discuss deposits in March, September and December.

The Beijing branch of the association said it received 2,064 complaints from users between Nov 23 and Dec 21.

China"s bike-sharing market is expected to rake in 10.3 billion yuan this year, a 736 percent increase on 2016, according to iiMedia Research. The market intelligence company forecast that the number of shared-bike users would soar to 209 million, up from 28 million last year.