Sydney woke to a city suddenly full of hundreds of yellow bicycles after oBike started operations in the CBD and its surrounds last Monday. The number of the company’s dockless, GPS-tracked rental bikes is only set to grow with plans in motion to increase its new stock from about 500 to at least 2000 in the coming weeks.
oBike’s arrival comes after the similar Reddy Go service launched in Sydney, following the lead of Melbourne’s first dockless bike-sharing service last month.
Reddy Go - identifiable by its red bikes - is working to bring 6000 GPS tracked bikes to the streets of Sydney before Christmas. That could mean just under 10,000 rental bikes on the streets of Sydney’s CBD by the end of the year.
oBike spokesman Chethan Rangaswamy told news.com.au the service was in its pilot stage as data was collected to assess where user “hot spots” are.
“We want to bring in at least 2000 bikes once we have all of the information we need,” he said.
The service offers dockless bikes for hire at $1.99 for half an hour on top of a $69 membership fee that is refundable on request. Users can locate the nearest bike and reserve it via the oBike app. The bike unlocks when its ID is typed into the app or its QR code is scanned with a smartphone. Cyclists are required to manually lock the bike via a push lever once they’re done. Unlike Melbourne Bike Share, which has designated pick-up and drop-off points, oBike works on the premise of dockless locking, meaning bikes can be left anywhere convenient that doesn’t pose a risk to public safety. Private property is off bounds but not everyone obeys the rules. The company has already received several complaints about bikes being parked or abandoned on private properties in Sydney. One of many critical comments on the business’ Facebook page labelled the bikes “visual pollution”. It’s one of the biggest challenges the company continually faces, according to Mr Rangaswamy. But he insists the minority of vandals and rulebreakers are merely part of “teething problems”.
The Singapore-based company launched in Melbourne on June 15, starting in the CBD and spreading from South Yarra to Carlton before coming to Sydney. It also operates in 40 cities and 11 countries worldwide. But it’s never really been a smooth ride for oBike.
Melbourne mayor Robert Doyle last week put the company on notice because users continued to inconveniently dump bicycles across the city.
“We work hard to keep the city free of clutter. They are clutter and that must be fixed,” Mr Doyle said.
Many images of the oBikes in trees and rivers have been posted to social media.
Concerns have also been raised about the bikes being left at popular tourist destinations or train stations in large numbers.
Mr Rangaswamy said oBike has employed “rapid action teams” who respond to complaints in order of high, medium and low priority.
“Any bikes found to be causing a public obstruction are removed within four to six hours,” he said.
Hi @obikeau and @yarratrams you might want to collect this bike from stop 126 Montague on the 109 tram line. pic.twitter.com/Nzw1hLPEkt— threadpaperscissors (@threadpaperscis) July 24, 2017
So, Obike turned up in Hammersmith. And the bikes have already been served a highway obstruction notice. pic.twitter.com/jtJEFRPRsa— Michael Passingham (@MrPassingham) July 14, 2017
Earlier this month, Amsterdam banned the dockless bikes because they didn’t have docking stations and were taking up too many scarce parking spaces. Around the same time, a London council announced it had seized more than 100 of the bikes just weeks after the scheme started there.
But according to Mr Rangaswamy, the problem is unlikely to be replicated in Australia.
“We purposefully got bikes with stands which means they don’t need to take up public parking spaces,” he said.
“It’s just about public awareness and we’re working with councils to make sure we are meeting all requirements and getting everyone used to the system.”
Users of the Melbourne rental scheme have also been left without head protection with almost half the helmets reported missing. The company has already lost about 40 per cent of its helmets, which are meant to remain attached to the bikes.
Mr Rangaswamy said oBike estimates an average non-return rate of up to 20 per cent and the scale of helmet loss in Melbourne is a “unique Australian issue” because it's the only country with mandatory helmet laws where the business operates.
“One of the challenges that took us by surprise was the frequent theft of our helmets, which we have always just replaced them as a short-term solution.,” he said.
“In the long run, we will be looking at lockable helmets ... which we hope to roll out soon.”
Those riding bikes without helmets are subject to $330 fines under NSW law.
But the benefits of the rental scheme far outweigh the drawbacks, according to Mr Rangaswamy.
“It’s about reducing congestion and our carbon footprint,” he said.
“Most people are using the service to ride from the train station to work because it allows commuters to conveniently travel one way.”
About 1000 Sydney users and more than 5000 Melbourne residents have registered for oBike since it was launched, according to Mr Rangaswamy. He said new registrations were “doubling week on week”.
The company is also in talks with Gold Coast and Adelaide authorities to introduce the service there and take the country by storm.
“We don’t have a date on that yet as we’re still having discussions with the appropriate councils and people,” he said.
oBike also relies on a self-regulating system through which users can earn credit for reporting faulty bikes. They can also be penalised for damaging or leaving bikes in private areas.
Do you have a license to litter our streets? pic.twitter.com/Iu2msO2Fwo— Jagtar (@jagsicle) July 12, 2017
Bicycle NSW said it welcomed the introduction of bike share schemes.
“Bike share schemes have a great capacity to help newer riders to be able to test out bike riding for transport without having to invest in a new bike and gear before they are confident riding will work for them,” a Bicycle NSW spokesman wrote.
“It’s a great way to ‘try before you buy’ and we’re hoping it will get more people riding. The more bike riders in any city or town, the more visible and safer riding is for everybody.”
oBike rides are free in Sydney, with the exception of the $69 refundable deposit, during a promotional period until the end of August.