oBike withdraws from Melbourne

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oBike’s Melbourne adventure is over, less than a year after it began.

The dockless bikeshare company has withdrawn from the Victorian capital and its distinctive yellow bikes are currently being taken off the streets. The news was confirmed today by Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp.

“I’ve been briefed this morning that oBikes [sic] have decided to withdraw from our market here in Melbourne and we are working very closely with them to remove oBikes from the city streets,” she said, speaking outside Melbourne Town Hall. “We recommend … that all people should stop using oBikes from this point forward.”

Lord Mayor Capp said she hasn’t heard why the beleaguered Singapore-based company is leaving Melbourne, but today’s news does comes a fortnight after Victoria’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced strict fines for oBikes stored inappropriately — a hefty $3,000 per bike.

The EPA development was seemingly the final straw for a company that has been under fire since it first arrived in Melbourne in July 2017. Public response to the scheme has been overwhelming negative since the start, and a great many bikes have been vandalised, damaged, or creatively disposed of in that time. Lord Mayor Capp pointed to such behaviour as a contributor to the scheme’s demise.

“I think the behaviour of individuals has demonstrated that they don’t respect or appreciate either the oBikes or the impact that their behaviour has on our broader community,” she said. “And as we know there are some serious incidents of individuals misusing bicycles.”

It’s not clear exactly how long the clean-up will take, but oBikes are already being collected. Indeed, the footpaths of Melbourne’s CBD, once replete with yellow bikes, are now noticeably oBike-free.

“We’re working with oBikes to collect the bikes,” Lord Mayor Capp told CyclingTips. “The difficulty is that people are still using the bikes so that’s why I said at the outset we’re recommending that people stop using those bikes. We’ve also recommended to oBikes that they disabled the bikes and then we’ll be able to continue collecting them in an orderly fashion.

“They’re being delivered to our impounding facilities so that we’ve got the ones that we’ve collected all in one spot and then we’re working with oBikes as to how they want to then collect and move them on.”

But even as oBike packs up and leaves Melbourne, other operators are gearing up to try their luck. If others do indeed come to Melbourne, they’ll arrive to a much stricter environment than oBike did. They’ll need to sign a memorandum of understanding with the City of Melbourne, and they’ll have the EPA keeping a close eye on them from the very start.

“We’ve learnt a lot from the experience with oBikes and I think a couple of things are important,” the Lord Mayor said. “One is that ultimately the regulation of what happens on our streets sits with the state government but as a city we’ve been very proactive in organising MOUs with oBikes and future operators to make sure that we can be confident that the way in which they’re operating is consistent with the outcomes that we feel are necessary for a safe community and a safe environment for cyclists.”

Will other dockless bikeshare operators be able to survive where oBike failed? Ultimately, Lord Mayor Capp says, it comes down to the people of Melbourne.

“I put it back on the community of Melbourne really to say that if we want to have these sorts of operators within our city then we need to have behaviours that respect the way in which we use them,” she said. “But ultimately regulating people’s behaviour is a really really difficult thing and an observation back to the people of Melbourne.”

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