It isn’t hard to notice that there is a flood of bikes showing up in our cities and with stories in the news about them ending up in rivers it as started to raise concerns rather than praise. We’ve ridden them and now spoken to one of the brands behind the bikes to get the real word.
EFTM had a series of questions for Scott Walker, the Head of Strategy at ofo Australia. ofo are the all yellow bikes you’ll see around Sydney and Adelaide. Let’s start with what the service is and how it works. ofo runs a bike sharing service, you aren’t sharing your own personal bike, ofo is sharing over 400 bikes in Sydney, even more around the world, and they’re sharing them with you.
Scott tells EFTM “to date, ofo has connected more than 10 million bikes in over 180 cities across 17 countries has been generating more than 32 million daily transactions and provided over 200 million global users with 4 billion, convenient and green rides. Residents and visitors will be able to rent and park bikes in places that comply with local laws for as little as $1.00 for 30 minutes, with an individual ride cap of $5.00, and no deposit or subscription, making ofo the most competitively priced bike share platform in the country. People can try ofo’s lightweight, geared bicycles with their first ride free and without providing their banking details.”
With there now being four different bike sharing companies running in Sydney, what sets ofo apart from the rest? Scott tells EFTM that “as the international market leader we are better resourced, better financed, and most importantly have better bikes developed through intensive research and development of more than 30 bike models. Our bike is lighter, is made with high quality aluminum, has three speed gears, ‘unpoppable’ solid rubber tyres and inbuilt GPS tracking technology. We also launched in Australia with geofencing around operational zones, preferred parking zones and a credit system”. They’ve also launched in Sydney with partnerships with councils and cycling associations to ensure they didn’t arrive to the party uninvited.
When we heard about bikes in Melbourne ending up in the river we asked ofo about how this would be handled if it happened with their bikes and Scott was clear that their operations team which runs worldwide is what would stop this from being an issue in the media. “Having our talented local operations team on board ahead of deployment, and trained and ready to proactively and reactively manage the fleet of bikes from day one already sets us apart. This and the fact our bikes have inbuilt GPS will really help us to monitor and manage our fleet our bikes, and to respond to bikes in improper locations very fast. We also have a 24/7 customer phone number on all our bikes and we have shared our operations contacts will local councils and local police, more things that will help us to proactively manage our fleet”.
With so many people riding random bikes and treating them differently we raised a concern that we may end up riding a damaged or unsafe bike, ofo thought of this also can responded to EFTM that their call centre is 24/7 and a quick call would bring that bike to their attention and “Any bike that is found to have an issue will be reported to ofo operations who will then deactivate that bike until it has been fixed” said Scott.
In New York I saw their model for bike sharing with bike racks where the bikes must be put into to “end” their session, why has ofo and others gone a different way? Scott responded “Some of the limitations of docking bikes are the cost of the infrastructure (and higher hire costs), and a lack of flexibility, meaning that you can’t get from point A to B easily. A real barrier to these services was either needing to know, or having to find another docking station, and sometimes finding out that they are too far from your final destination making the service unattractive. The beauty of a dockless bike share system is you can just pick them up and go, finding out where nearby bikes are on the app. The flexibility is also a great thing for councils who host major events such as New Year’s Eve events.”
The rollout for ofo is not intended to be rapid, ofo want to do it properly, have their deployments considered and supported. What’s next for ofo? While they’re currently in the city, Bondi Junction, Bronte, Tamarama and Dover Heights they now have their sights on Inner West, including suburbs like Newtown, Balmain, Marrickville, and Sydenham.
As someone who has ridden in Sydney on a bike sharing service, this is something that should be celebrated and enjoyed. If we all focus on the positives and not treat the bikes poorly or do the wrong thing then it will enable change and reduce congestion. We hope they stick around, maybe we don’t need four brands in Sydney though.