Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has come “to the end of his tether” with the operator of the oBike scheme and is preparing to act.
Speaking to a group of local small business operators at the town hall on August 16, Cr Doyle outlined a series of possible remedies to the cluttering of public areas by the bicycles.
He accused oBike of avoiding meaningful discussions to arrive at an acceptable solution.
“I reckon they’ve played us on the break for two months,” he said. “We entered these discussions with them in good faith. They’ve made promises, including the provision of data and that has not been forthcoming.”
“As recently as yesterday, there was real, I would say, anger amongst councillors that they haven’t tried to do the right thing.”
Cr Doyle accused oBike of not caring where their bicycles ended up.
“When you pay your 70 bucks, they couldn’t care less. And they’ll just leave them anywhere and you can leave them anywhere,” he said.
“We’re at the end of our tether. We’ve worked with them for two months now.”
“My suggestion to them was, you know, we have MOUs with Coles and Woolworths where they go around and pick up discarded trolleys. And we’ve said: ‘we think you need that model to keep them neat, to keep them upright and in places where people want them’. At the moment, they look like they’ve been scattered by a giant hand.”
“If they’re not prepared to do that, then my next step is to go to a bylaw, which turns them into just another street trading permit – because they’re using the public realm for private purposes.”
“If we can’t do that, then we do have rules around obstruction and clutter. And we’d be prepared to remove them.”
“We’ve tried talking with them for two months. It’s been pretty unproductive so far.”
“But here’s the thing that’s scary though: There’s something like six other operators who have the same model,” he said.
oBike Australia marketing head Chethan Rangaswamy denied the company had not been genuine in its dealings with the council.
“We at oBike are in all honesty have been having upfront and open conversation with the City of Melbourne,” Mr Rangaswamy told CBD News.
Mr Rangaswamy acknowledged the company had been “challenged” by some of the places its bikes had ended up.
“We have since added more resources to our efforts to raise awareness. When you look the usage numbers these incidents are solvable with more awareness,” he said.
“We also have operations teams looking at bike usage data and re-deploying the bikes to the busy areas accordingly from lesser busy areas – daily!”
Mr Rangaswamy also said oBike had established a rapid action team to police “proper parking”, ensuring that bikes did not take up public parking loops, were not parked on private property and always “park in a safe and civic manner”.
“We will be ending our pilot test end of August,” Mr Rangaswamy said. “We will then look at the data holistically and compare it to other international cities and share it with the local councils to better come up with local solutions.”
Mr Rangaswamy said more than 5000 apps had been downloaded in Melbourne. He said 90 per cent of the more than 1000 oBikes circulating in 17 suburbs had been ridden at least once.
“We will move the bikes if they have not been used after one week,” he said.
“We conduct extensive research in each location that we deploy our bikes in, taking into account the population, transportation habits and the bicycle infrastructure availability to decide on the numbers of bikes to place at each location.”