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Chinese 'Uber for bikes' company eyes Adelaide

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A billion-dollar Chinese company is eyeing Adelaide as one of the cities in which to roll out a global expansion of its Uber-like bike-share scheme, InDaily can reveal.

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Beijing-based bicycle sharing company Ofo reportedly plans to deploy 20 million bikes and expand its app-based service to more than 100 cities across the globe by the end of this year.

InDaily understands Ofo is considering an incursion into Adelaide as part of its global expansion – a move which would shake up the city’s transport mix and potentially free up almost a million dollars in public funding for improved cycling infrastructure in the CBD.

The Adelaide City Council currently has a contract with BikeSA to run the Adelaide Free Bikes scheme – where cyclists can hire bikes from, and return them to the same location – which runs out at the end of this year.

Mid-last year, the city council and the State Government signed a $12 million funding agreement to make Adelaide the “cycling capital of Australia”, with $1 million set aside to implement an upgraded “point-to-point” bike-share scheme for the CBD.

A “point-to-point” bike share scheme would mean cyclists could take bikes from A to B without having to return the bike to point A.

But Ofo’s Uber-like system takes that convenience a step further by allowing users to find and hire bikes using a mobile application and leave them wherever their journey ends, for a small fee.

A staff report, presented to the Adelaide City Council last night, says commercial operators have expressed interest in expanding bike-share businesses into South Australia.

It says the council has been approached by two local companies investigating the viability of commercial bike-sharing in Adelaide.

The report also says the 221 Adelaide Free Bikes bicycles are “nearing the end of their useful economic life, with some being over 10 years old”.

Councillors overwhelmingly agreed, during the meeting, that the council should not fund a public bike-share scheme if a commercial operator was willing to launch a private one.

Central ward councillor Megan Hender told last night’s committee meeting: “If there’s someone that can do this commercially, we shouldn’t be in this space.”

“We should allow that to unfold,” she said.

“That probably means we need to get our free bikes off the streets.”

Cyclists using Adelaide Free Bike bicycles on Frome Street. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Hender added that a commercial bike-share scheme “could somehow be incorporated into our MetroCard (… people would) start to see bikes as part of the transport system”.

Area councillor Sandy Wilkinson told the meeting “I don’t think we should be spending ratepayers’ money on providing a free (bike-share) service”.

He suggested joint funding with the State Government an expanded bike-share scheme could instead be redirected into the north-south (Frome Street-Frome Road) and east-west CBD cycling corridor projects.

In June last year, Singapore company oBike brought 200 bikes to Melbourne in competition with the Victorian Government’s bike-share scheme and, according to the council report, two companies are planning on launching bike-share schemes in Sydney later this year.

The report says oBike offered its bikes to hire for free, and that “the intent of the bike-share companies is to make profits selling movement data collected from users’ smart phones and not necessarily revenue from hires”.

The council’s associate director for design and strategy Daniel Bennett told InDaily this morning that he and other council staff members had met informally with a number of bike-share operators “at their request, to discuss cycling in the city generally”.

He said the administration was not aware of “any firm proposals to develop a bike-share scheme for the City of Adelaide” but was aware of “the rapid developments in recent months, specifically the ‘dockless’ bike-share schemes in other cities including Sydney and Melbourne as well as overseas”.

According to the council report, about 30 companies around the world are operating bike-share schemes without dedicated “docks” installed on public streets.

Council staff will now consult with the State Government and present a new report on the subject in October.

Ofo did not respond to InDaily’s queries.

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