BY ALEC SMART
Rental bicycles, the ubiquitous brightly-coloured machines seen scattered across Sydney suburbia, and often found hanging from trees or rusting in canals, are back in hot water again.
A coalition of six Sydney councils – Canada Bay, City of Sydney, Inner West, Randwick, Waverley, and Woollahra – have introduced strict new guidelines to ensure the companies concerned meet a set of regulations that will reduce the number of abandoned bicycles.
Darcy Byrne, Mayor of the Inner West Council, who oversaw the meeting that allied the councils, stated it was important to implement a set of rules that both encouraged the use of the hire bicycles but protected pedestrian safety when the bicycles were left haphazardly on footpaths and in public parks.
Although the first bike-sharing scheme was introduced in Amsterdam in 1965, the new bike hire companies’ machines are based on an itinerant concept begun in China in 2016. Accessed and unlocked by a mobile phone application, after usage, the bikes can be left at the journey’s end and don’t have to be returned to a designated area or docking stations.
This has been their undoing, as the end of the journey has seen them piling up in tourist spots – such as Bondi and Coogee beaches – or unceremoniously dumped in parks where vandals have subsequently hurled them into waterways or suspended them from trees.
There are five rental bicycle companies operating in Sydney whose machines don’t have to be returned to a depot: oBike, Ofo, ReddyGo, Mobike and Riide. Between them they manage tens of thousands of dockless bicycles, thousands in central Sydney alone.
The new regulations, enforceable within the next few months, include: the retrieval of bicycles within three hours if they obstruct pedestrians or are left in potentially dangerous locations; the removal from service of bicycles within 11-14 days if they’re inactive, a week if they’re broken; a direction to advise users to park their bicycles in an upright, kerbside position away from buildings and bicycle racks and not obstruct narrow footpaths; and companies to provide a bicycle repair service.
Public Liability Insurance must also be provided for bicycle users.
Failure to comply would result in fines and confiscation of the offending bicycles. This comes in the wake of Melbourne City Council crushing 20 rental bicycles operated by oBike that were impounded for obstructing pedestrians.
When contacted by City Hub, CP Lim, Head of oBike Australia, said, “To better manage retrieval and repair, we will be partnering local businesses for our on-ground operations and provisioning of oBike resources. Called Global Business Partnership Programme (GBPP), it is a franchise business model that aims to harness the expertise and resources of local businesses to better manage oBike operations in specific geographic areas within a city.”
The six councils overseeing the new regulations are also insisting the rental bicycles firms employ ‘geofencing’, whereby users are encouraged to return their bicycles to designated zones. This utilizes a system on their mobile phone apps that grants or deducts points from those who cooperate or transgress the rules.
When Ofo released their bicycles onto the streets of Sydney in October 2017, they were the first to employ ‘geofencing’ technology. This alerts riders if they try to park a bike outside Ofo’s operational zones, which in Sydney city covers Kings Cross, Martin Place and Ultimo, and further out to Erskineville, Redfern and Surry Hills.
OBikes told City Hub, “Geofencing is the use of the global positioning system (GPS) to define geographical boundaries. In our case, it helps us determine if the bicycles are parked in designated parking zones as it acts as a virtual boundary that alerts the entering and exiting of bicycles in an area. We will roll out geofencing in Sydney in accordance to the latest guidelines issued by the Sydney Council.”
ReddyGo, Ofo and Mobikes were contacted for this article.