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City councillors slam senior staff over bike-share blindside

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The Adelaide City Council has opened a bitter public spat with senior staff after a bike-share scheme was granted a permit to launch in the CBD without elected members’ approval.

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Yesterday Chinese bike-share company ofo launched its smartphone-app and GPS-enabled bike hire service in Adelaide – its first Australian site in what it hopes will be a national rollout – with a permit, assigned by the Adelaide City Council’s administration.

With cycling remaining the council’s most vexed political battle, the move came as a shock to many city councillors, some of whom missed an email from acting CEO Beth Davidson-Park on AFL Grand Final day advising that the permit had been granted.

A similar “dockless” bike scheme, run by Singapore-based company oBike, has caused chaos in Melbourne’s CBD, with users finding “creative” ways to dispose of the bikes, which can be left anywhere at the end of a trip and picked up by a new user using an app and GPS, including in the Yarra River.

Area councillor Anne Moran told InDaily this morning that she and fellow councillors felt “like mushrooms kept in the dark and fed shit”.

“If you keep your councillors in the dark they’re going to lash out,” she added.

Addressing “a lot of consternation” over the decision at a council committee meeting last night, Davidson-Park said the administration had little choice but to grant the permit – and little time to act – in order to gain “leverage” over ofo.

“We are very aware of the issues that … dockless bike-share has caused in Melbourne since it was launched there in June this year,” she told the meeting.

“(However) these dockless bikes were going to launch anyway … I’m advised that the schemes in fact could have launched within the city without permits.

“What we have done is respond, I think, very responsibly, with a range of conditions around that, so we actually have some leverage and we can manage it.

“It think it would have been quite irresponsible of us to know they were launching and allow that to happen with no safeguards.”

Davidson-Park clarified in a statement to InDaily today that, in fact, a permit “is required to allow the bike share businesses to operate its business on council land – i.e. making use of footpaths, shared use paths etc which their business model requires”.

The permit, which runs until March 2018, is enforceable with a maximum penalty of $2710 for breaches, and can also be terminated.

Davidson-Park also revealed last night that another bike-share operator was also due to launch in Adelaide this week.

This morning, she told InDaily that company was oBike – the same company that had suffered “teething issues” in Melbourne’s CBD.

Davidson-Park told the gathered councillors that “conditions are quite rigorous and members – I assure you that I’d have no hesitation at all in exercising our right to enforce, to fine, or indeed to cancel the permits”.

“You also have the option to engage SAPOL depending on the severity of the breaches.”

She said the council’s administration and the State Government had been in negotiations with dockless bike-share companies since the council debated the issue in August.

InDaily revealed at the time that ofo planned to use Adelaide as its test site.

Images of Melbourne’s poorly placed oBike bicycles have been multiplying on Twitter.

Ofo’s City of Adelaide permit requires it to “monitor the location of all bikes daily to avoid clutter and congestion of their bikes in any one location” and “to reimburse the City of Adelaide for any damage or maintenance costs that may arise as part of this activity” – among several other conditions.

InDaily understands south ward councillor Alex Antic has drafted a motion for next week’s council meeting that would cancel ofo’s permit – but he did not return phone calls today.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that he found out about the coming launch late on Friday, and that he and councillors had been informed at the “eleventh hour”.

“The Melbourne experience is that have been left strewn around the city, in the Yarra (River) and the like,” he said.

“Adelaide … is a very neat city – I think we pride ourselves on the presentation of our city.

“This was brought to the councillors’ attention at the eleventh hour.

“We want to see that this is not going to end up a bit of a disaster.”

He added: “The onus of proof will be on the operator … they need to ensure that these bikes aren’t strewn all over our city streets.”

“Conceptually it is a very good idea … I am a little nervous about this”.

As InDaily reported yesterday, the launch of the dockless bike scheme threatens the Adelaide Free Bikes scheme – sponsored by the council – which costs users nothing but requires them to return bikes to the “dock” where they got them.

Haese told morning radio today that did not know whether the Adelaide Free Bikes program would continue.

“I don’t know – I’m asking the same question and so are the (other) councillors,” he said.

Ofo’s Adelaide launch also means that $1 million worth funding from the State Government and the council’s 2016 cycling infrastructure deal, which had been set aside to establish a public “point to point” bike-share scheme, will instead be used to build higher-quality separated bikeways.

Moran told InDaily this morning: “Too many times this administration … has just gone ahead as if the council doesn’t matter” and the decision to grant the permit gave “more grist to the anti-bike lobby (mill), which is not a good thing”.

An email sent to senior council staff from south ward councillor Phil Martin this week reads: “If the approval of the elected members … was never necessary … why did the administration waste the time of the elected body with a series of now-meaningless motions?”

And: “rhetorically … why do we need elected members?”

But central ward councillor Houssam Abiad told InDaily this morning: “You’ve got to have some trust in administration.”

“(Councils instruct their) administration to go out and deliver on good transport outcomes for the city – and this is one of them,” he said.

“(However) it just would have been nice it know.”

Area councillor Natasha Malani told InDaily: “Beth (Davidson-Park’s) explanation was quite reasonable” at last night’s meeting, and that “technically it didn’t need a council decision – technically”.

However it was “poor judgement on their part not to advise council and bring this to the chamber”.

“I guess … something must have happened to escalate this so quickly.”

She added, though, that she was more comfortable – not less – that the permit had been issued.

“We’re better off issuing a permit so that we have some regulatory control,” she said.

“Let’s try it – let’s not jump to (conclusions).”

Ofo in talks with council staff ‘for months’ before launch

Ofo Australia head of strategy Scott Walker told InDaily this afternoon his company had “got the balance right” in its Adelaide operation, and had been negotiating with council staff for months about its plans.

“Ofo is proud of our approach of working in partnership with the City (of Adelaide) on an operational model that would be appropriate for Adelaide in the long term,” he said.

“As part of our collaborative approach over many months, we have taken on Council comments about the number of bikes, our approach to organising and presenting bikes, and have launched with pre-planned preferred parking zones through the pilot zone.

“All bikes have been launched in accordance with the discussions we had with council officers and in accordance with the conditions of our permit to operate … We believe we have the balance right for Adelaide.”

He added that “we are aware of issues surrounding other operators in Australia, contributed by them rapidly rolling out their product in large numbers without adequate resourcing or consultation, which is why we have launched via a carefully planned and consultative pilot scheme of just 50 bikes to show the people of Adelaide that we are a serious operator who understands the local market and wants to get bike share right”.

“We are excited that our pilot program has been a success with locals already and we remain excited by the opportunity to demonstrate our leadership and our superior model.”

He said yesterday that ofo’s service had key advantages over other bike-share applications to discourage illegal disposal of bikes and vandalism.

He said users in Adelaide were bound by a “geofence” – a virtual boundary containing the CBD and North Adelaide – and that they would be deducted “20 points” in the app if they leave a bike outside the zone for more than 12 hours.

Users begin with 100 points – if they lose all of them they are banned from using ofo bikes.

New potential customers are unable to use an ofo bike if it is outside the geofence.

Walker said there was also a 24/7 customer service hotline displayed on each bike and that the app displayed “preferred parking zones” to discourage users leaving bikes in the way of pedestrians or road users.Save

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