If you have been in or around Melbourne city over the past year, you would have most likely seen the yellow ‘oBikes’ that were introduced in mid-2017.
oBike is a Singaporean company that provides bicycles for anyone to hire via a smartphone app. The difference between oBikes and the other bike rental options in Melbourne is that oBike was the first ‘dockless’ bike sharing scheme introduced in Australia. This means that there is no central docking station hub where the bicycles are returned to once they have finished being used.
Instead the bikes are to be placed in a regular bike docking area, or a legal spot where it would not inhibit pedestrians or traffic.
The technology behind the oBike system is fantastic, in that each bicycle was fitted with Bluetooth functionality that enabled users to log into the system and identify the closest oBike to them. They would then be shown a map to the bike, then they simply needed to scan the QR code on the bike into the mobile app and they could use the bike.
Benefits of using bicycles over cars
The idea of having bicycles available for anyone to use within the City of Melbourne is a fantastic idea, it means that there are more people being active and choosing a pollution-free mode of transport. Maintaining and improving the transport network costs the Australian government $27 million AUD on average every working day. The estimated costs of congestion are $5 billion AUD per year. More bikes and less cars on the road can reduce this congestion and its associated costs.
The issue with oBikes in the City of Melbourne
Unfortunately as fantastic as this bike sharing scheme may seem, the oBikes have caused a lot more issues than many may have expected.
Due to the fact that there was no designated return destination for the bikes, it meant that oBikes were being dumped in people’s front yards, on footpaths, in bus stops, trees, lakes and in the Yarra River contributing to both visual and environmental pollution.
What may have started out as a fantastic way to reduce pollution and encourage healthier lifestyles quickly turned into an environmental issue.
On 30 May 2018 the CEO of the Environmental Protection Authority Victoria (EPA), Mr Nial Finegan addressed the issue of oBike dumping in and around Melbourne and issued the following statement;
“We have issued the company with Litter Abatement Notices that allow the City of Melbourne to issue fines of more than $3,000 each for any incident in which the company doesn’t comply,” Mr Finegan said.
“[The] EPA has issued the Notices at this time, given the company’s inability to provide [the] EPA with the confidence that it could, or would, manage this issue in the absence of the statutory Notices,” he said.
“The official Notices will remain in force for three years and include time limits for the removal of any damaged or dumped oBikes, or any that are causing a nuisance or endangering the public.”
The team effort between [the] EPA and the City of Melbourne also carries a clear message for some members of the public who have not been taking oBikes seriously.”
Following the notice from the EPA regarding fines that would be issued to oBikes under the Environment Protection Act 1970 it was announced in June 2018 that oBikes will be withdrawing their services from Melbourne.
Whilst this may be a win in terms of curbing the amount of pollution that the oBikes were causing, it does raise a question – was the real issue with the oBikes that they didn’t have docking stations or with the users who were damaging and dumping them?