Bike-sharing firms hit bump Down Under

A rainbow-shaped art installation in inner-city Melbourne, made from about a dozen shared bikes. In Australia, shared bikes have ended up in trees, on top of portable toilets and in waterways.
A rainbow-shaped art installation in inner-city Melbourne, made from about a dozen shared bikes. In Australia, shared bikes have ended up in trees, on top of portable toilets and in waterways.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

The authorities slap rules to prevent bikes from being dumped or blocking footpaths

In a sign of the growing controversy over bike-sharing schemes in Australia, a betting agency in Melbourne has been taking bets on how many bikes will be dumped in the city's Yarra River or which famous landmarks they will be left in.

"How many bikes will be pulled out of the Yarra River in October?" the Sportsbet agency asked.

For a A$1 (S$1.04) bet, Sportsbet offered a A$2.25 return if 100 or more bikes were found in the river.

Perhaps ominously, the agency also took bets on whether the bikes would be banned by the year end - the odds were A$1.30 for yes, A$2.70 for no. Sportsbet has not released the results.

These somewhat playful betting stakes marked the latest development in the ongoing debate over the introduction of smartphone-based bike-sharing schemes in Australian cities.

As in Singapore and elsewhere, their launch has quickly been followed by cases of vandalised bikes.

In Australia, the bikes have ended up in trees and on top of portable toilets, and have repeatedly been thrown into waterways.

One artist created an eye-catching piece of street art: a large rainbow-shaped sculpture in inner-city Melbourne made from about a dozen of the bikes.

However, the abuse of the bicycles has prompted anger from the authorities, who have started to draw up regulations.

The main players in Australia are Singapore-based oBike, which has about 2,500 bikes and was the first to set up in the country, and Sydney-based Reddy Go, which has about 2,600 bikes.

In Melbourne, the City Council, which covers the city centre, last month destroyed 30 oBikes after they were deemed to be "cluttering footpaths and obstructing pedestrians".

Dozens of bikes have been found in the city's Yarra River and others have been found in Sydney's harbour.

Melbourne City Council, along with the city councils of Port Phillip and Yarra, signed an agreement last month with oBike to try to prevent the bikes from being dumped or blocking footpaths.

According to a statement by the councils on Oct 17, oBike agreed to ensure that its bikes would not block footpaths, would be parked upright and not be left on steps or against trees, buildings or light poles. In addition, oBike agreed to remove bikes from dangerous locations within two hours and from inappropriate locations within 48 hours.

Any bikes confiscated by the councils would be impounded and released if oBike pays a A$50 fine within 14 days. Otherwise, they would be destroyed. The councils said they would seek similar agreements with three other companies that plan to expand to Melbourne in the coming months.

"oBikes have been a new and unexpected challenge for our city," said City of Yarra Mayor Amanda Stone.

"Through the (agreement), we are taking a proactive approach to managing them while encouraging people who may not be regular cyclists to give riding a go."

Separately, five councils in Sydney have voted to adopt a joint response to the bike-sharing schemes, including a proposal to create designated parking spots.

oBike's headquarters in Australia said it monitors where bikes end up and uses trucks to pick them up if they are dumped at beaches or have not been used for several days.

"Since our launch, we have had a few who abused our bikes," a spokesman said.

"But for every abuse case, there had been many more who exhibited positive riding behaviour... It is a careful but slow expansion."

The state governments in New South Wales and Victoria are also under pressure to develop rules for managing bike-sharing businesses.

For now, the schemes are continuing to expand, with plans to roll out thousands of bikes to all the Australian capitals.

Chinese company Ofo, the world's largest bike-sharing firm, is in the process of distributing about 400 bikes across Sydney and has plans to expand across the country.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2017, with the headline 'Bike-sharing firms hit bump Down Under'. Print Edition | Subscribe