Since Singapore-based bike share company oBike launched here in June, chances are you’ve spotted the hordes of yellow bikes across inner Melbourne.
In the tradition of Uber or Airbnb, oBike has entered a new market with a new piece of technology, for which said market is unprepared, regulation-wise.
Download the oBike app and you’ll see a map of bicycles nearby, similar to an Uber screen. Create an account, scan the bike’s QR code, pay a $69 security deposit and you’re ready to get on your oBike. The deposit’s about as hefty as the bike you’ll be hiring, but the app is actually pretty user-friendly.
Users start with 100 credit points. Good behaviour (reporting a faulty bike, for example) earns credit, while things like forgetting to lock a bike result in points being taken away. Prices start at $1.99 for 30 minutes – the cost increases the lower your credit goes.
The oBikes don’t need to be left at docking stations, which gives them more flexibility than the blue bikes available through the RACV and PTV’s Melbourne Bike Share.
Being able to hop off the bike anywhere is great, but it’s also oBike’s biggest problem. Since cyclists aren’t leaving the bikes in their designated parking areas, they're becoming a headache for pedestrians and local councils, and a target for people up for some low-level crime.
When they aren’t blocking footpaths or being vandalised, oBikes are ending up in bizarre locations. As they can of course be picked up and moved even if they’ve been locked, chances are your first encounter with an oBike wasn't seeing one being ridden on the road. Portaloos; trees; floating on rafts in Albert Park Lake – they’ve been found everywhere. There have been so many chucked into the Yarra, they had to be fished out of the river en masse.
And even when they are being left in bike racks, they’ve attracted the ire of other bicycle owners who can no longer use the racks to lock up.
City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle told the Herald Sun earlier this month that the council was working on a memorandum of understanding with oBike to “work out what is reasonable and what is not”.
“What’s not reasonable is when they are in large, cluttered and very unsightly piles all over the city,” he said.
The council has impounded dozens of oBikes, and it costs oBike $50 to go and retrieve them. Another challenge for oBike is that 15 per cent of its 1250 bikes have been damaged beyond repair or lost, and 40 per cent of helmets that originally came with the bikes are long gone.
Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards says most people were using oBikes responsibly, but more could be done to improve bike access in the city.
“Many cities around the world have multiple public bike options and anything that makes it easier for people to take the healthy transport option and ride a bike is positive,” he said in a statement.
But those “cities around the world” are also struggling with bike sharing schemes. Turns out, Melburnians are not the only ones who can’t have nice things
Riders in Shanghai have stolen tens of thousands of bikes, driving some bike-share companies out of business. Locals there have also been caught setting fire to some of the bikes, a sight yet to be seen in Melbourne. San Francisco’s bike-sharing businesses have been confronted with people stripping bikes of their parts and slashing tyres as a protest against gentrification. And in Seattle, mandatory helmet laws, not enough bike lanes, and bad weather discouraged people from using bikes, which drove bike-share scheme operator Pronto broke.
Despite the horror stories, oBikes have been widely accepted in their hometown of Singapore, a town where fines are given for dropping gum on the street.
There are plans to give oBike a more positive reputation. Next Wednesday, Bicycle Network is teaming up with oBike to run a learn to ride and bike information session in the Alexandra Gardens from 12pm. The lunchtime class will teach bike basics and safety on the roads. Hopefully, appropriate parking techniques are also on the agenda.