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When Eric Smith, Ofo’s Western Regional Head of Communications, describes the conditions their company seeks for markets to bring their bike-sharing program to, it describes the City of Phoenix, an expanding city in the midst of transition, almost to a fault.
Ofo currently operates in 27 markets (and climbing) and, when looking to expand to new cities, they look for locales with high traffic congestion and local governments consciously trying to curb their carbon emissions. In addition, they seek a third quality of municipalities willing to partner with the bike-sharing company to share data for the betterment of their own transportation grid. Smith points positively to this scenario playing out in Colorado, where the data collected by the company told city planners and managers in Aurora where people commonly rode the bikes, which gave them mathematical probabilities as to where dedicated bike lanes were needed.
With smartphones, the logistics of using a bike-sharing program are simple: You need an smartphone, a bike-sharing app, one of the bikes and a credit card, to input for payments. You ride around and initiate the shackle brake in the back when you’re finished.
The sights of distinctive banana yellow and lime bikes, the bikes respectively belonging to Ofo and LimeBike, should be familiar to any resident of Old Town Scottsdale. Rows of these distinctive brightly colored bikes are propped up every couple of blocks throughout Old Town. Ofo won’t share how many bikes are on the ground for competitive reasons, but their two biggest markets Denver and Seattle each started with about 1,000 bikes.
The two companies represent a new subset of insurgent bike-sharing companies that are dockless, where the rider can park practically anywhere. As of this writing, Ofo and LimeBike haven’t expanded into central Phoenix. For now, GR:D. the most traditional model of bike sharing fills this model. Customers retrieve bikes from a permanent rack, which are unshackled via inputing a custom pin. They initially appeared in Arizona in Fall 2014, first appearing in midtown and downtown Phoenix, and expanding to Tempe, Gilbert in the following years.
Basically, dockless bike-sharing takes out the legwork, but with that comes drawbacks. Since bikes are tracked via GPS, the company can plot onto a computer map the wonderful and strange places the biker’s riders took the transports. Like a message in a bottle, Ofo bikes have traveled downstream as far south as Mesa Community College and in the vicinity of Deer Valley Airport in north Phoenix. If they sit inactive for more than a day, a night crew is dispatched to retrieve the bicycles.
If there is one aspect that’s controversial about the pilot program in Scottsdale, and indeed a common complaint following dockless bike-sharing wherever it goes, is the bikes cause a nuisance sometimes when they’re discarded by the user after a ride. It’s a problem that Smith and Ofo openly acknowledge and are willing to work with local municipalities to address.
“We definitely have worked with the City to figure out the barriers where the bikes need to be ridden and parked, but at the same time we can’t just stop the bike-riding past a geofence,” Smith said.
Yet, there’s a sweet spot within the “dockless sharing mobility” model, as Ofo calls it. Smith cites a testimonial of the proverbial starving college student whose car unexpectedly stalls on their way to class and they choose the $1 bike-rides versus the $35 ride from either Lyft or Uber. But, like their ride-sharing ancestors, people need awareness of the system before they fully embrace it and this is where, they think, having convenient brightly colored transportation, like the pink mustaches before it, partially advertises itself.
Their analysis of their short time in Scottsdale indicates an abundance of repeat riders clocking many short bike rides they view, which, so far, vindicates the expansion as a success.
“That’s kinda the joke we’re having right now is, we’re coming into these cities and disrupting them with 200-year-old technology,” Smith said.