Dockless Bike Company Pulls Out of Chicago, Citing City's Locking Rule
By Mary Wisniewski
Ofo said Monday that it has pulled its bikes out of Chicago as a result of locking rules which the China-based company said make it too difficult to provide service.
Chicago started a six-month pilot program on May 1 on the Far South Side which allows riders to locate and unlock bikes through an app, instead of at designated stations like those offered by bike-sharing company Divvy.
The city's program required that starting July 1, all bikes in the program must have the ability to lock to a stationary object like a bike rack after use. This is a requirement unique to Chicago, and imposed because the city wanted to avoid the problem of dockless bikes left in piles or cluttering sidewalks, which has happened in other cities.
Ofo bikes lack "lock-to" technology and can be parked anywhere using a wheel lock. The city modified its permit terms on June 29, allowing Ofo and LimeBike, which also uses wheel locks, to continue operating 50 bikes each in the program. But the companies were not allowed to add more bikes without the "lock-to" technology. Vendors with lock-to technology can have up to 350 bikes each.
"It's been a pleasure serving the Far South Side over the past two months, but unfortunately the city's restrictive regulations have made it impossible for us to continue providing our more accessible and convenient transit option," said Jordan Levine, a spokesman for Ofo, in an email. "We will continue to work with city officials and hope to one day again offer affordable mobility solutions to everyone across Chicago."
Both Ofo and LimeBike had hoped to change the city's mind about the locking requirement by July 1. Zagster's Pace, and Uber's Jump bikes, which can be locked to fixed objects, plan to have a total of 600 bikes between them. LimeBike remains with the city program, with 50 bikes.
The Active Transportation Alliance, a group which advocates for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, sent a letter to city officials on Monday asking for changes to the dockless program, including either increasing the cap for wheel-lock bikes, or eliminating the lock-to requirement.
"We need to see more bikes on the ground and more companies participating and more people riding dockless bikes," said Kyle Whitehead, managing director of public affairs for the alliance.
The letters also asks that the city and vendors provide available data on bike sharing, including ridership, where bikes are being parked and where they are being used. The letter said residents have "raised concerns about vendors not meeting requirements to spread bikes across the service area."
The dockless program was intended to fill a hole in the availability of shared bikes, as Divvy has no bike stations south of 87th Street. With the current number of vendors, the program will have just 650 bikes for the area bordered by 79th Street on the north, 138th Street on the south, the Skyway on the east and Pulaski Road on the west.
Ofo, which bills itself as the first and largest dockless bike-sharing program in the world, argues that "lock-to" bikes can still block the right of way, which creates new clutter issues.
A representative for the city's Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment.
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