Bike sharing giants ofo has chosen Adelaide as their first Australian city as the company seeks to expand their footprint into the southern hemisphere. The bikes use GPS-enabled geofence technology which guides users to park bikes within the current area in which ofo is operating and where the pre-determined preferred parking zones are located. Charges start at $1.00 for 30 minutes, with an individual ride cap of $5.00.
The Chinese based company, that's headquartered in Beijing, is the first company to be granted a license to operate in the City of Churches. The first batch of 50 bicycles will be deployed in the city centre and North Adelaide to enable ofo’s local operations team to work in close collaboration with government and community stakeholders, to get the settings right before expanding the fleet.
ofo says new users will enjoy a free ride with the company promising a no deposit and no transaction fee model. You can take advantage of the first free ride without entering any credit card details. There will be a credit rating system to reward good users and penalise bad users. Users can lose one fifth of their startup credit points (100 credit points initially provided to new users) by parking outside of the operations zone.
Unlike the bikes deployed in other countries, ofo is offering a lighter bike than others on market. They are equipped with 3 gears, an adjustable seat, front and back lights and "unpoppable airless tyres." All bikes will have a helmet attached that is certified to Australian standards.
One of the challenges faced by other bike-share services, such as o-bike in Melbourne, is people mistreating bikes, throwing them into trees and waterways.
Scott Walker, Head of Strategy for ofo Australia, said "Having a strong team on the ground to educate riders and to check and move bikes twice a day and a rapid response team to respond to misplaced or abused bikes will help build trust with the local community. We are serious about making bike share work for everyone in Australia".
In addition, local operations staff will be managed by a city operations manager to ensure bikes are checked twice daily and re-allocated where required, including checking helmets are with the bikes. There's also 24/7 customer support, which is advertised on the bikes, and ambassadors on the street to educate and help users.
One of the challenges some bike-share schemes face is the sprawl of bikes as they are used further and further away from their point of origin.
Walker said "We also launched with geofences (called operation fences) that highlight the ideal limits of the scheme to keep ofo bikes contained within a set area and easily controlled. If the user parks outside the zone they will receive push notifications to return the bike within 12 hours. The bike will also automatically lock so other riders can not use it in the mean time, a second defence again sprawl beyond optimal operational zones".
It will be interesting to see how this scheme works out. In Melbourne, o-bikes have been mistreated with dozens found in the Yarra River. There have also been cases of the apps and bikes being hacked, with users losing money.
Murray Goldschmidt, COO at Sense of Security, said “It comes as no surprise these bike sharing apps have been hacked, as we are seeing connected devices being rushed to market, leaving security as an afterthought to obtain a competitive advantage. This is creating a chasm, as it becomes evident that superfast and continuous product development is marginalising ‘traditional’ security teams".
Bike-share services are still relatively new in Australia. I suspect we'll see a few more land on our shores before the market has its inevitable contraction as players either merge or collapse. ofo's measured approach seems sensible and by launching in a smaller city, they will have an opportunity to iron out the wrinkles before moving to larger urban centres.