Cycle hire schemes Ofo cycle hire firm pulls out of London
At its peak the Chinese bike-sharing startup had 6,000 bikes in several English cities
The Chinese bike-sharing firm Ofo, known for its yellow bikes that users can leave in the street, is pulling out of London.
Alibaba-backed Ofo, which is reportedly teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, had already withdrawn from Norwich, Sheffield and Oxford to focus on London, after facing problems with take-up and vandalism.
It was one of several Chinese cycle hire startups that allow riders to unlock GPS-enabled bikes with their smartphone, and drop them off anywhere without having to park them at a dock.
A Chinese rival, Bluegogo, went bust in September 2017, leaving Ofo to battle it out with Mobike’s orange and silver bikes in the race to become the “Uber of bikes”.
On your bikes … testing the new breed of dockless cycle hire schemes
According to China Entrepreneur Magazine, Ofo has dissolved its international division, which includes the UK operation, and offered its 50 remaining employees the option to leave by Thursday or take a 50% pay cut and transfer to the Chinese business.
At its peak, Ofo had around 6,000 bikes across London, Norwich, Sheffield, Oxford and Cambridge, according to numbers collated by the Guardian from press releases and local news reports. Of 14 local authorities where Ofo was operating, it has now withdrawn entirely from seven.
The firm pulled out of south London in October, restricting itself to the centre and north of the capital. Only a handful of its bikes were visible on the mobile app on Thursday.
The firm stopped paying its mobile phone bills, according to a source, which cut off the 3G connection to the bikes so they do not show up on the app, although users can still unlock bikes with a four-digit code. Ofo previously had up to 3,000 bikes in London.
Nearly all of its UK staff are understood to have been made redundant. The firm had up to 60 staff in the UK at its peak but later scaled back its workforce to just a handful. The UK operation was loss-making.
Emily Brooke, the founder and owner of Beryl, which provides laserlights and other technology for Transport for London’s Santander bikes, said of Ofo and Mobike: “They haven’t got the ability to tailor their offering to different areas; they’ve got one model from China.”
Why isn't Ofo interested in its bike abandoned in my road?
She said Ofo cycles were of poor quality, without servicing or maintenance, and hard to find. She added both firms had failed to work with local authorities in the UK to make the bike-sharing schemes suitable to their areas.
Last spring, Ofo and Mobike embarked on aggressive expansion plans in London and Manchester respectively – just as rival GoBee pulled out of Europe after 60% of its bikes were damaged or destroyed within four months of launch.
However, in September Mobike withdrew from Manchester, citing “unsustainable losses” from vandalism and theft.
Mobike claimed at the time that the wave of vandalism, with damaged and stolen cycles littering canals, bins and back gardens shortly after its launch, had tailed off.
Will Butler-Adams, the chief executive of Brompton, which hires out 1,000 foldable bikes across the UK, said Ofo had expanded too quickly without trialling and fine tuning its scheme.
Brompton’s hire scheme also struggled with vandalism at the beginning when people attacked its docks with angle grinders, but the company has made them safer, and hopes to double the number of bikes in next two years.
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