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Cambridge's new code of conduct for Ofo and other dockless bike companies

By Paul Brackley

Ofos operations director for the UK, Joseph Seal-Driver. Picture: Keith Heppell
Ofos operations director for the UK, Joseph Seal-Driver. Picture: Keith Heppell

Councillors agree rules as it emerges more operators want to run their service in the city

Ofo marshalls outside the office in Station Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Ofo marshalls outside the office in Station Road, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

A new code of conduct has been approved in Cambridge for dockless bike hire operators like Ofo.

It comes after more operators expressed an interest in running their services in Cambridge.

Under the voluntary code, companies will be expected to ensure their cycles are not left in areas where they would cause an obstruction by providing guidance to users – and penalise those who flout the instructions.

Operators will also be asked to remove any bikes reported as a nuisance within 24 hours.

Chinese company Ofo set up its first UK site in Cambridge in spring 2017, initially trialling a scheme involving just 20 bikes amid concerns that they could be abandoned around the city. Now there are 450 Ofo bikes on the city’s streets, which users can hire by downloading an app.

A report to a Cambridge joint area committee noted: “Despite fears of street clutter and vandalism the Ofo scheme has operated in the city without any serious issues, and usage and membership of the scheme is increasing on a daily basis.

Ofo marshalls in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Ofo marshalls in Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

“Vandalism and theft is at a low level, and Ofo have agreements with a variety of landowners for off-street parking hubs in locations such as Addenbrooke’s, the Science Park, Park & Ride sites and hotels. This provides a useful service for residents, commuters and visitors and encourages cycle trips for short journeys around the city.

“It is hoped that students and those living in the city on a temporary basis will be encouraged to use bikeshare cycles instead of buying low-quality and often poorly-maintained cycles which can be abandoned at public cycle racks when no longer needed.”

Councillors were told “other operators have expressed an interest in setting up schemes in Cambridge”.

There is no legislation governing dockless bike hire as the government expects it to be self-regulating. But some cities have introduced a memorandum of understanding with a single operator or contracts with one or two.

The code agreed by city and county councillors is based on similar documents used in Oxford and by Transport for London. It asks companies to:

■ Agree to a one-month trial with fewer than 100 bikes;

The Ofo launch at The Espresso Library in Cambridge, with UK operations director Joesph Seal-Driver. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Ofo launch at The Espresso Library in Cambridge, with UK operations director Joesph Seal-Driver. Picture: Keith Heppell

■ Seek agreement from the county council to expand;

■ Submit an annual report on usage, complaints, theft and vandalism;

■ Equip bikes with dynamo lights, front and back, and service cycles monthly;

■ Provide information to users on safe and considerate cycling and where to park;

■ Influence user behaviour to prevent cycles being left in unsafe places;

■ Remove bikes causing a nuisance within 24 hours – and pay for those removed to a depot by the council if it fails to meet this deadline;

■ Redistribute cycles so that no more than 10 per cent of those in a bike rack are taken up by bike-share vehicles; and

■ Pay staff the Cambridge living wage.

Councilors voted unanimously to introduce the code, adding that companies should encourage users to check bike brakes before they cycle in their safety advice.

Noting that cycle parking spaces are already limited, the code encourages operators to work with public organisations such as Addenbrooke’s, Cambridge University and its colleges, business parks and private landowners to agree as many off-highway cycle hubs as possible.

It urges operators to tell users not to park bikes in Sidney Street between Market Square and Round Church Street and to encourage use of the Park Street cycle park.

At the committee meeting, Cllr Martin Smart said he had met with Ofo bosses who had acknowledged they needed to do better in Cambridge, amid reports over abandoned bikes.

“We are the best cycling city in the UK,” said Cllr Smart. “And every cycle is, potentially, a car off the road.

“Ofo have acknowledged they got off to a bad start in Cambridge, which I think we all understand. They were keen to acknowledge this and make amends and do a better job. Bike hire is in the DNA of Cambridge.”

Cllr Nichola Harrison said there were probably more Ofo bikes in her ward, Market, than there are in other parts of the city, but that residents did not appear concerned about bikes being vandalised or left in hedges.

Cllr Richard Robertson said he was worried about maintenance of bikes, and said he had seen Ofo bikes without lights. He said proper maintenance of the bikes had to be enforced for companies that were renting out bikes.

Cllr Noel Kavanagh added: “I think we need to think about the kind of riders who will be using the service. A lot of people will be untrained. There will be more and more amateur cyclists on the road.”

The main alternatives to Ofo is Mobike, which like Ofo originated in China and today operates in 200 cities worldwide – Ofo operates in 46.

“We have Mobike sites in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Oxford,” said a Mobike representative, adding that it has no plans for a Cambridge service.

Additional reporting: Josh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter

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