By Meg Hill
In the past three years, three share bike operators have packed up and left Melbourne. Will the newest company to take the plunge prove more successful?
Melbourne and share bikes haven’t had the most compatible relationship in recent years.
In fact, most operators have upped and left.
Many will remember oBikes, whose fleet of yellow bikes were more likely to be found in trees and rivers than paths and roads during a calamitous period in 2018.
The Singaporean-based company quickly abandoned their Melbourne program amid the threat of huge fines from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
From there, the only casual cycling options Melburnians and tourists could utilise were the state government’s “blue bikes”.
But they too were on their way soon after, departing in November 2019.
While these sturdier “docked” blue bikes had not experienced the same dumping issues as oBikes, uptake was low.
This was blamed on a number of things, but a small network of bikes and docking stations — especially when compared with other successful programs around the world — was perhaps the most obvious.
The government tried to spin the failed program as a positive when roads minister Jaala Pulford argued it would “create more space on our footpaths for pedestrians and bike parking”.
But that conflicted with the City of Melbourne, who at the same time held a press conference urging operators to give Melbourne a try.
Electric share bikes, in particular, were “part of the future” according to the council’s then transport chair Nic Frances Gilley.
The council got its wish when Uber subsidiary Jump announced it would deploy 400 red bikes onto Melbourne’s streets in March 2020 to fill the void.
Within weeks, however, COVID-19 lockdowns ensured share bikes quickly became redundant.
And soon after, Jump became the third company in short time to abandon its share bike plans in the city.
But, it’s not all bad news.
The red bikes have returned to the streets of Melbourne after Jump was acquired by Lime.
For some time now, the San Francisco-based company has attempted to crack the Melbourne market with their primary product — electric scooters — but restrictive local laws have ensured that (as it stands) cannot happen.
By acquiring the Jump brand, however, they finally have a presence here in Melbourne with the re-badged bikes.
So, will they work?
Lime believes previous failures gives it strong intel on what not to do.
“I think we’ve come a long way from those times,” public affairs manager for Lime Australia and New Zealand Lauren Mentjox recently told 3AW.
“Lime has been operating bikes for about three years now, and we’ve certainly learned a lot about shared bikes, and we think they are the way of the future. We think that some of those bikes potentially didn’t have the oversight that Lime has. We have strong teams on the ground … and we’re certainly making sure that we don’t make any of the mistakes that were done before.”
Eight hundred e-bikes are being rolled out and, according to Lord Mayor Sally Capp, there had been very few complaints to date.
“Lessons have been learned from previous share bike schemes,” Cr Capp said.
“These e-bikes incorporate GPS tracking and geo-fencing capabilities, for example, which allow the bikes to be managed more easily and efficiently.”
The bikes cost $1 to unlock, and 45 cents per minute to ride.
The rate is already a 50 per cent increase on the cost compared with Jump (which was 30 cents per minute), despite being the identical bike.
The Lord Mayor did not respond to whether she believed the cost hike might impact uptake.
A day pass can be purchased for $16.99.
Lime e-bikes: How do they work?
The bikes combine good old-fashioned pedal power and electric power, for help getting up those tricky inclines.
They are designed to travel up to 25 kilometres per hour.
Users can borrow them by using either the Uber or Lime app, where a map reveals the nearest bike to your location.
Each bike has a QR code to scan before use, which takes users through the booking and instruction process.
Helmets are provided.
After a ride is completed, users can park them on public bike racks or, if unavailable, on the kerbside provided it is more than 1.5 metres from any building.
Lime has entered a one-year trial period with the Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip councils, and the bikes can only be ridden and parked within these areas, which are defined within the app.
Users that stray outside the three local government areas will not be able to lock the bike after a ride, and will continue to be charged.
Further, there are designated no-park zones (usually busy pedestrian areas) where users will similarly be charged penalties for non-compliance.
As for ending up in waterways or toilet blocks, Lime is confident the weight of the bikes (over 30kgs) makes it difficult to move and vandalise them, and that users are traceable through their app bookings.