By David Schout
An Uber-owned company will deploy 400 electric bicycles onto Melbourne’s streets in March to fill the casual cycling void in the city.
The City of Melbourne, alongside the Yarra and Port Phillip councils, announced the 12-month trial with Uber subsidiary Jump, whose dockless e-bikes are already being used in over 30 countries worldwide.
The three-geared electric bikes have a top speed of around 25 kilometres per hour, which Lord Mayor Sally Capp said was “terrific for those of us that needed a bit of help up the hills.”
Booked using the Uber app, the bikes will cost $1 to unlock, and 30 cents per minute to ride, and also come with a helmet.
The signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Jump and the three councils details strict guidelines to avoid a repeat of the oBike fiasco of 2018, where yellow bikes were strewn across city pavements, parks and waterways.
Chief among these are “resolution timeframes” for illegally park or dumped bikes that, if not met, could see the bikes impounded by the council.
For example, any “dangerously placed” bicycle causing a hazard must be relocated within two hours as stated in the MOU.
The public can report illegally parked bikes on a 24-hour complaints line.
Jump will charge users for parking the bikes incorrectly, and could also ban users from Uber and Uber Eats for repeated misuse.
Unlike oBikes, the e-bikes will be regularly attended to by maintenance workers for battery replacement and servicing.
Jump said the electric bicycles were expensive and that it was in its interests to keep each one in working order.
Despite the refined contingencies in place to avoid an oBike repeat, there is still an obligation on Melburnians to take care of the e-bikes, something Cr Capp touched on in an online video address.
“What we need from you is respect for these bikes, good management so that we can continue with this system, and make sure, please, that you don’t abuse them and we don’t see them end up in the Yarra. They’re too good,” she said.
In a positive move for the city, the e-bikes will be serviced and maintained by Good Cycles, a local bicycle shop and social enterprise that works with disadvantaged youth.
The company will operate on the ground for Jump, including regular servicing, repositioning and replacement of bicycle batteries.
Good Cycles, which had done a similar role with the previous blue bike scheme, employs around 70 people at locations in the CBD and Docklands, as well as Geelong and Dandenong.
CEO Jaison Hoernel told CBD News around 25 to 30 of those are young people who have been through the youth justice system, drug rehabilitation, long-term unemployment or postcode disadvantage.
He said the partnership simply made sense.
“It was just a great fit. We thought the product was a really strong product for Melbourne and for us a great chance to create those employment opportunities,” he said.
“We can give a young person the opportunity to come work with us, figure out what it is they want to do, and most importantly give them a credible reference.”
Mr Hoernel said Good Cycles would have a wider range of responsibilities with the electric bikes compared to the standard blue bikes.
He said that for the general public, e-bikes were a “massive point of difference”.
“Good Cycles believes in bikes, and more people riding throughout the city. We particularly believe in e-bikes – these are really strong way to provide that active transport,” he said.
“The big difference is that these are electric bikes. That’s a game changer to anything that’s been here before. Melbourne bike share was there for 10 years and obviously played a part in bike share and cycling. But this is a whole new product in a whole new time and that’s, I think, the most exciting thing about it.”
Since the state government scrapped the blue bike scheme in November, locals and tourists alike have had no access to casual cycling options in Melbourne.
The predicament was far from ideal for the City of Melbourne, whose recent 10-year transport strategy encouraged people out of cars and onto bikes.
Having agreed to the 12-month trial, Cr Capp said she was confident that it would deliver for the city.