A Chinese company that bills itself as the “world leader in station-free bike sharing” on Monday pulled its 50 bikes out of Chicago in response to locking requirements that tied the company’s hands.
Ofo said it could not provide “meaningful service” in a pilot area that includes 20 square miles of the Far South Side not served by Divvy, under revised rules that confine vendors whose bikes are not locked to stationery objects to just 50 bikes while those that include the “lock-to” technology can have 350 bikes.
“It’s been a pleasure serving the Far South Side over the past two months, but unfortunately the City’s restrictive regulations have made it impossible for us to continue providing our more accessible and convenient transit option,” Ofo spokesman Jordan Levine was quoted as saying in an emailed statement.
“We will continue to work with city officials and hope to one day again offer affordable mobility solutions to everyone across Chicago.”
Ofo contends that the Emanuel administration’s policy change “chooses winners and losers instead, of letting consumers decide which product and service” best satisfies their needs.
The revised policy gives Uber/JUMP and Zagster/Pace an unfair advantage, Ofo contends.
The company further noted that “lock-to” bikes do not alleviate street clutter. They can still be “locked to anything including private property” and “still block the right of way.”
If riders can’t find something to lock the bike to, they often just leave it freestanding, Ofo contends.
Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey had no immediate comment on Ofo’s decision to withdraw from the Chicago market.
The city’s original plan gave dockless bike-sharing companies, now conducting a test run on the Far South Side, a July 1 deadline to have locking equipment that allowed the bikes to be tethered to a sign post, bike rack or other fixed object. Possibilities included a cable or U-lock system similar to those that cyclists use.
But when LimeBike and Ofo complained about the locking requirement, the Emanuel administration backed off, but in a way that benefited Uber — again.
LimeBike and Ofo were allowed to continue operating with a wheel-lock technology at a fleet size of 50 until the pilot program ends on Nov. 1.
Those same companies were free to expand their Chicago operations, but only if they comply with the Lock-To requirement.
At the same time, City Hall raised the maximum number of bikes — from 250 to 350 — for Uber and other companies with bikes that include the “lock-to” technology.
Uber rolled out its JUMP dockless bike-sharing service last week using the “lock to” technology — just in time to take advantage of the new 350-bike limit.
For years, Emanuel has been accused of creating an unlevel playing field that has allowed Uber to siphon business from taxicabs and placed Chicago’s taxicab industry on the brink of extinction.
The revised rules governing dockless bike sharing were viewed as, yet another example.
“It seems that CDOT is focused on tipping the scales for bikes using ‘lock-to,’ instead of letting residents on the South Side determine for themselves what kind of bike-share system they prefer to use,” Jesse Lucci, general manager of Lime Chicago, said last week. “If the city is truly interested in providing the South Side with equity on bike-sharing then they would place all operators in this pilot area on a level playing field instead of favoring lock-to companies.”
Claffey has insisted that the changes were made to benefit LimeBike and Ofo — not to put those companies at a competitive disadvantage.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, has argued that, if Divvy docking stations are good enough for the North Side and downtown, City Hall should “force” Divvy to build those same docking stations on the Far South Side and West sides.
“The Far South Side is being shortchanged once again,” Beale told the Sun-Times last week.
“If dockless was so good, why are they not allowing these companies to put these bikes all over the place downtown and on the North Side? We don’t want bikes all over the place. We want docking stations . . . If you get a group of tourists [who] get off at 111th St. at the Metra station and want to ride around and see the historic Pullman District, they can’t do it because they won’t be able to assemble five or six bikes at a time because bikes are all over the place.”
Claffey has argued that there would be a “major capital cost to expanding the Divvy system to the Far South Side.”