Mobike is to roll-out its dockless bike hire system across London without the prior agreement of boroughs or Transport for London.
The Chinese firm says the current practice of seeking consent from individual boroughs before launching in their area is stifling the development of the capital’s dockless bike hire market.
In an email sent to boroughs last month, Mobike says: “As you may know, the current patchwork approach where each borough can opt in or out of dockless bike sharing is not working.
“Users cannot take bikes to their desired destinations but are forced to get off the bikes as they approach a borough border. That obviously does not make sense for any transport system.
“What London needs is a truly London-wide bike sharing scheme. Mobike is going to provide just that. Whilst boroughs no longer have the choice to opt in or out of the dockless bike sharing scheme, Mobike will continue to comply with all reasonable rules of the Transport for London code of practice. We believe it is very important that a dockless bike sharing scheme is well managed.”
Mobike says its scheme will be “orderly and tidy” and financially sustainable. The company has asked boroughs to highlight any “particularly sensitive spots or potential problem spots” that require special consideration.
Mobike already has two operating areas in London: in the west (Ealing and Hounslow) and in the centre (Islington, City of London, and Southwark). It also operates in Manchester, Newcastle/Gateshead, Cambridge, and Oxford.
Councils do not currently have the power to prevent dockless bike operators launching on their streets but can remove bikes that cause an obstruction.
Mobike’s plan may accelerate preparatory work by Transport for London and borough association London Councils on a capital-wide byelaw to regulate dockless bike hire operations, restricting their operation, other than by consent, and imposing operating requirements (LTT 22 Jun).
Mark Frost, head of traffic & transport at the London Borough of Hounslow, and chair of the London Technical Advisors Group (Group 1), told LTT this week: “Boroughs are likely to take a dim view on such unilateral action [by Mobike] without due engagement with the relevant highway authority. It may act to harm the chances of an operator pursuing this path securing a permanent arrangement in future, particularly given the likely imposition of a capital-wide byelaw to control such arrangements in due course.”
Michael Hurwitz, TfL’s director of transport innovation, told LTT: “We welcome the growth in dockless cycle hire schemes, as well as growth for our own popular Santander Cycles. However, it is vital that dockless operators work closely with us and the boroughs to ensure their schemes are safely and responsibly managed, so we can avoid the disruptive and dangerous clutter of abandoned bikes that we have seen in some cities around the world.
“We are pursuing a pan-London approach to managing dockless operators with London Councils, which could include a new byelaw to help ensure that schemes are safe and responsibly managed with local issues in mind.”
Mobike told LTT this week: “Mobike’s approach is to deliver responsibly managed and sustainable bike share where there is demand for cycling. We’re in constant dialogue with boroughs regarding roll-out plans, no-parking zones, and operational approaches for highly sensitive locations.
“We also continue to comply with all reasonable rules of the TfL code of practice. Given that bikesharing is already permitted in London, borough consent is not necessarily required but Mobike values working with boroughs to ensure the scheme remains well managed.”
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