London’s first dockless hire bike scheme launches

Obikes available for hire in east London.

London’s first dockless hire bikes were launched on Wednesday morning in the first phase of what is expected to be a rapid rollout of the machines by Singapore-based company Obike to cities across the UK.

Obike – not to be confused with Mobike, which launched in Manchester a month ago – delivered 400 of its bikes to the London borough of Tower Hamlets on Wednesday, and intends to roll out thousands more across the city before the end of the month, at a rate of hundreds per day.

The bikes can be located and unlocked via a smartphone app, and left at the user’s destination, rather than a docking station, opening up many areas without access to London’s existing docked cycle hire scheme.

On Wednesday bikes were dotted along Cycle Superhighway 2, so having downloaded the app, and paid my £49 deposit, I went to Bow to try one. I scanned the bike’s QR code, which released the wheel lock via Smart Bluetooth technology.

Although it was like cycling on an exercise bike with the resistance turned up, its single gear was OK on the flat, and so long as I didn’t try to hurry – at all – it was fine. I managed to get it up to 19km/h very briefly, but overall I dawdled at a very sedate 12km/h. I passed several clusters of the grey and yellow machines at bike racks and Santander Cycles docking stations along the way.

Laura Laker (@Lakerlikes)

So… dockless bike sharing has come to London #obikepic.twitter.com/GQfTZTIBf8

July 12, 2017

As with other dockless bike share schemes, members are penalised or incentivised with credits for good and bad behaviour, such as telling Obike about damaged bikes (good) to riding recklessly and leaving bikes in antisocial places (obviously bad). As an experiment I locked the bike away from the others on an open stretch of pavement by a tube station, and the app offered no complaints, or suggestions to leave it with the others. It simply told me to leave it in a public place where other users would be able to find it.

The Obike announcement comes less than a week after it was revealed Santander Cycles, London’s longstanding docking-based bike hire scheme, will finally extend to Brixton, in south London. At present there is a sizeable public bike-free hole within the inner south-east London suburbs.

With 11,000 Santander Cycles available across the capital, the addition of Obikes will increase London’s public hire bikes by nearly 50% in a month, with hundreds of new bikes added each day throughout July. By contrast, it took years for the Santander Cycles (formerly Barclays Bikes) scheme to develop. I find the Santander Cycles easier to ride than the Obike I tried.

The two models may well end up competing, though. Obike users pay a refundable deposit of £49 after which it costs 50p for a 30 minute ride, whereas Santander Cycles cost £2 for 24 hours with the first 30 minutes free. After that it costs £2 per 30 minutes, and an annual pass costs £90.

Dockless bikes are certainly cheaper for councils: in 2014 Tower Hamlets paid £2m for an extension of the then Barclays Bikes out of a total scheme cost of around £40m. The Obike scheme, by contrast, has cost Tower Hamlets nothing.

Add to that the fact half of Londoners don’t have access to a bicycle – whether for reasons of cost, lack of storage space, or theft – and the scheme could make cycling for everyday journeys an option for far more people in the city.

It remains to be seen how the scheme will pan out. In Manchester, Mobike seems to have been well received. However, there are concerns that because the bikes can be left in any public place they will clutter the pavements and cause obstructions.

Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, sees the bikes as a positive, but says he will keep an eye on the parking issue, not least because reducing pavement clutter to help disabled Londoners get around is among his priorities.

He says: “We are working hard to improve opportunities for cycling right across London and are always keen to explore innovative new ideas. Dockless bike schemes and new technology have the potential to make cycling even more accessible to even more people, and I would want anybody using these bikes to have a great experience of cycling in London.”

User privacy has been raised as a concern with other similar schemes but Obike told the Guardian it will not sell user data to third party companies, and says it only tracks movement of the bikes via inbuilt GPS, not users.

There is also the question of safety and liability: as with other dockless bike hire schemes, Obike’s terms of service it says users must check the bike is roadworthy before riding it, the concern being that not all users may have the mechanical knowhow to spot faults. The bikes have solid tyres, eliminating punctures, and the company says they require “minimal maintenance”.

The Obikes will be introduced at public transport hubs, on high streets and shopping centres, with further locations in the pipeline, according to the company.

A spokesperson told the Guardian: “Obike has ambitious plans to launch in cities all across the UK. We have ongoing conversations with city councils to put in place the best service possible to cater to the needs of the UK population. Ambitious plans to deliver dozens of thousands of bikes all over the UK, looking to revolutionise last-mile transportation and significantly reduce carbon emissions in the UK.”

The company, which started life just this year, is growing rapidly worldwide, having launched bikes in Asia, Australia and Europe already. There are now 5m Obikes in China alone. Obike is also introducing its bikes in Switzerland this month.

[Source”timesofindia”]