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Free city bike scheme wins contract reprieve

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Adelaide Free Bikes has won an extension to its contract with the city council, InDaily can reveal, despite the incursion of commercial dockless bike share operators into the CBD last year.

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The renewed contract – signed off by council staff – keeps the free bikes service on the road until June 30 this year.

Several city councillors argued last year that there was little justification to continue funding Adelaide Free Bikes if commercial bike share operators were willing to enter the SA market.

Chinese “dockless” bike share company ofo did just that late last year, closely followed by Singaporean competitor oBike.

Both “dockless” bike share schemes allow users to leave GPS-tracked bicycles on the footpath at the end of a trip, to be picked by another cyclist using a mobile app, whereas Adelaide Free Bikes requires cyclists to return bikes to dedicated locations.

Christian Haag, CEO of Bike SA – which runs Adelaide Free Bikes on behalf of the council – told InDaily its contract had been extended.

He argued the service retained a valuable place in the market, offering benefits to Adelaide’s tourism branding and a useful way for very low-income South Australians to get around the city easily.

“It’s a very high-value program, to complement (other transport options),” said Haag.

“We’re not seeing a drop in usage.

“There’s value in having diversity of those transport options.”

But Central Ward councillor Houssam Abiad told InDaily there was no justification for the council to spend any money on Adelaide Free Bikes, since ofo and o-Bike had entered the market.

“I have zero appetite to spend one more dollar on (Adelaide Free Bikes),” said Abiad.

“There’s no point in ratepayers spending any more money on it.

“There are other competitors in the market that are trying to make ends meet.”

However, he said: “If this extension of the program doesn’t have any cost on council … I don’t have any problem (with) it.”

A council spokesperson said that the decision to renew the contract was consistent with the budget already assigned to the program by councillors in this financial year’s budget.

“The decision to extend the contract to 30 June is consistent with the 2017-18 budget of $120,000 ($60,000 + $60,000) and consistent with the terms of the contract,” the spokesperson said.

“We did not undertake a new tender process, nor are there any plans to at this time.”

A report presented to the council in August last year warned that the 221 bicycles operated by Adelaide Free Bikes were “nearing the end of their useful economic life, with some being over 10 years old”.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese described Adelaide Free Bikes “an important community service that has been enjoyed by many”.

“Last year, two bike share operators entered the Adelaide market,” Haese said.

“We will assess the impact of these new bike share operators over coming months.”

Abiad added that it “would have been nice” for the CEO of the council, Mark Goldstone, to have brought the contract decision to elected members’ attention – though he conceded that offering the extension without councillors’ approval was not unreasonable either.

Councillors criticised senior staff last year for granting ofo’s permit without their express approval, although the council had earlier expressed support for dockless bike share operators being given the right to operate in Adelaide.

They were spooked by the experience in Melbourne’s CBD last year, where dozens of o-Bike bicycles had to be fished out of the Yarra River. Others had to be retrieved after they were left hanging on trees and road signs.

Ofo city manager for Adelaide Alex Hender told InDaily there was strong demand for dockless bike share in Adelaide.

“Ofo has had 20,000 rides since launch and over 9000 rides in the last month alone,” he said.

“We are pleased that public demand for bike share and cycling, in general, is increasing.

“We look forward to working with the local community to provide the best bike share service we can.”

Haag added that while tourists remained the most regular users of Adelaide Free Bikes, a higher proportion of “locals” were beginning to take advantage of the service also.

Haag said an evaluation of the Adelaide Free Bikes scheme was due to be presented to the council this week.

InDaily asked Goldstone for comment.

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