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Ofo secures Leeds bike share following Sheffield launch


Andrew Forster
16 February 2018

Leeds City Council has chosen Ofo as preferred operator of a dockless bike share scheme in the city. The news follows on from Ofo launching a 1,000-bike scheme in Sheffield last month.

Martin Farrington, Leeds City Council’s director of city development, told councillors that a  number of dockless bike hire operators had approached the council about launching a scheme in the city. 

There were no legal barriers to prevent them doing so, he added, and this meant the council could not offer an exclusive contract to one firm. “However, engagement with potential operators shows that they would, in any event, wish to have the council’s support and confidence in their proposals before progressing with a scheme,” he said. 

Farrington said talks with operators had shown key differences between their offer in respect of:

• bike quality, specification and suitability 

• their approach to integrating with public transport 

• the need for sponsorship to deliver scheme enhancements 

• their approach and proposals around social inclusion 

• their ability to include electric bikes in a future expansion of the scheme

• the speed of introduction and launch 

• the additional benefits that the city may derive from the bike share operation 

Ofo’s offer was most closely alignment with the city’s ambitions, said Farrington. “They [Ofo] are Bikeplus-accredited, with bikes that are well-specified for the city and its topography with a potential electric bike option. They offer a comprehensive and detailed proposition with a sound business model and the vision for expansion, which is socially inclusive and has significant financial backing without needing sponsorship.” 

Leeds is to work with Ofo on a memorandum of agreement that will include service standards and key performance indicators.

The scheme will feature preferred parking zones and Ofo will employ a team of marshals to respond to reports of badly parked and damaged bikes. 

The scheme will place no financial impact on the council, except for officer time. 

A launch date has yet to be  agreed and the number of bikes in the scheme is as yet unclear. 

Leeds says the scheme will initially be operated as a 12-month trial, beginning in the city centre and surrounding area. The University of Leeds is an enthusiastic supporter of the plans. 

A spokesman for Ofo said the intention was to quickly expand the scheme into the suburbs and towns if it proves successful. 

As well as Sheffield, where it launched last month, Ofo’s distinctive yellow bikes can be found in Cambridge, Oxford, Norwich and the three neighbouring London boroughs of Hackney, Islington and City of London.  

Bikes are located and hired via an app, with users charged 50p per 30 minutes of hire, with a maximum daily price of £5. 

The company operates a geofencing system whereby users can take a bike out of a scheme operating area (indicated on the app) but must return the bike within 12 hours.  

Ofo uses a reward and penalty points-based system to influence user behaviour. All users start with 100 points and can gain more points for actions such as reporting a bike inappropriately parked, referring a friend to sign-up, and leaving bikes in preferred parking zones. 

Conversely, users lose points if they leave a bike in a way that causes an obstruction, or take a bike out of the geofenced zone for more than 12 hours. If a user’s points fall to zero then he/she can be suspended from the scheme. 

A spokesman told LTT: “At the moment the points aren’t used/spent/converted [to rewards] like a Nectar-type scheme – but we do periodically provide free rides for users that are obeying the rules.”

Ofo was founded in 2014 by five students in Beijing and claims to now be the largest bike-sharing platform in the world, operating in 250 cities across 20 countries.

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