On-street Sensors could ensure that dockless bikes are only parked in approved locations, but operators will only invest in the technology if they know they are going to operate somewhere for the long-term, the City of London Corporation has said.
Two firms, Ofo and Mobike, have launched dockless operations in boroughs that neighbour the City of London – Camden (ofo), Hackney (ofo), Islington (ofo and Mobike) and Southwark (ofo and Mobike). Bikes can be used within the City but on the condition that the operators do not directly place bikes on the City’s streets.
“It is expected that both operators will expand operations to other neighbouring boroughs in the near future,” Carolyn Dwyer, the City’s director of the built environment, told members. She said there were currently about 3,000 dockless bike trips a month to, from, and within the City.
“Discussions with operators have highlighted the difficulty of penalising users for parking in an inappropriate or inconsiderate location due to the limited accuracy of GPS systems,” said Dwyer. “More accuracy can be achieved by using Bluetooth sensors to record when bikes are left in preferred parking locations. Operators will want certainty of ongoing permission to operate before investing in this technology, as this requires installation of sensors in set locations and the ongoing maintenance of these sensors.”
Dwyer noted that Mobike had recently introduced a £20 charge for bikes left outside its geo-fenced operations area (with a 100 metre buffer to reflect GPS accuracy). “The City is not covered by this charge as the existing arrangement with Mobike means that the Square Mile is currently part of their operational area,” she said.
The City of London has explored whether street trading licencing laws can be used to control dockless bike hire schemes but concludes they cannot. LTT reported in January that the London Borough of Brent was planning to use street trading powers of the London Local Authorities Act 1990 to control dockless bike hire operations in the borough. An operator would have to apply for a street trading licence before it could operate a scheme (LTT 19 Jan).
Dwyer said the City’s legal officers had concluded that dockless bike hire did not fall within the definition of street trading in separate legislation applying only to the City.
“Street trading is defined in the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1987 to mean the selling or exposing or offering for sale of any article or thing in a street. However, dockless cycle hire schemes involve bikes being available on the highway (or on private land with the consent of the owner) for temporary hire by members of the public, with payment being made via an App, and no person in the street engaged in the hiring out of the bikes.
“As the 1987 Act prohibits a person from selling etc. items in the street, not the temporary hiring of bikes in the way proposed, which is more in the nature of a service, the activity would not amount to unauthorised street trading.”
TfL and London Councils are working on a byelaw that would make it an offence to operate a cycle hire scheme without a licence (LTT 22 Jun).
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