The oBike Debate

Since I arrived home, I’ve noticed a lot of aesthetic changes that have occurred in the Bayside area of Melbourne. New things like shops, sports facilities and apartment blocks have been constructed and have changed the feel of my neighbourhood. But the biggest change I’ve noticed since arriving home is actually to do with bikes. There is this bike sharing company known as oBike who are clearly targeting the Bayside area. Drive around a couple of major Bayside streets and you’ll notice hundreds of these oBikes parked on the footpath. It doesn’t take a genius to tell that they aren’t being used much.

So some background on oBike. Like I said it’s a bike sharing company. It allows you to use an app to find where a bike is located (you can park it basically anywhere), unlock the bike (I think it has some sort of bluetooth enabled lock), ride it (it’s $1.99 for 30 mins) and then park it when you’re done. It’s great that they are trying to encourage people to ride bikes. I actually really like the concept and it’s having huge success in other countries right now, especially in many Chinese cities.

Bike riding is also one of the best ways to improve the look and feel of a city. To make it seem more vibrant. To get more people out utilising the beautiful parks and environments we have in Melbourne. But… I do have a few bones to pick with oBike. There are some strategic decisions that they’ve made that feel a little off to me.

Where they’ve stuffed up

Firstly, there’s the fact that there are so many fucking bikes in the streets. It makes oBike seem extremely under utilised and it’s almost at a point where the bikes are littering the street. Take back a few. I understand that they are trying to make oBikes super accessible where you’ll always get a bike if you want one; but just go a little easier.

Secondly, I don’t know the exact time when they launched the service (sometime earlier this year?) but it seems like the controversy has built up over the last couple of months. So, why the fuck would you launch oBike in the middle of a Melbourne winter? Did they not know that Melbourne (and Bayside for that matter) isn’t exactly the most bike friendly neighbourhood. Yes, we have a few bikes paths but they’re not that easily accessible and they don’t go to where most people want to actually get to (like the city). The other irony is that most people who enjoy bike riding and live in Bayside will already own a bike. I doubt those people will even use the oBike service. Why would they?

Thirdly, the fact that oBike are placing this much trust in the people of Melbourne is quite funny to me. Sharing an object so publically could only work if you have everyone on board. Unfortunately, the people of Melbourne are not that trustworthy. Bikes will be vandalised especially when there is so many of them just lying around.

I think oBike could only work well with tourists or with millennials that live inner city and a) don’t have enough space to store a bike or b) can’t afford one. It would also help if it’s a short commute for them to work and biking there is feasible.

So after reaching some of these conclusions it’s clear that oBike has a pretty bad rap. Not to sound arrogant or anything 🤑 but I’ve got some ideas to help oBike improve. And perhaps some of these ideas could be adopted into a whole new business model because that’s probably what’s needed.

What oBike should do

Firstly, we come back to the question of why did oBike launch in the winter months? They should have waited to launch in summer (or maybe mid spring) when more people are out riding and enjoying the sunshine.

Secondly, oBike should have lower prices. In my opinion, it needs to be a $1 per hour or something that is super low, so that using an oBike is much cheaper than catching public transport. Once you compete on price then you’ll truly get traction in terms of people using oBikes to commute. It would also be great if there was a yearly payment option, something like $100 a year to use the bikes whenever you please.

Thirdly, I would fix up Melbourne’s bike path network. This is where things start getting a bit more idyllic. Melbourne’s bike paths aren’t that great when the only two decent ones I know of are Beach Road and Gardiners Creek. What needs to happen if Melbourne is to become a bike friendly destination is for investments to be made in world class bike paths. My grand idea would be to build bike paths (that are wide and really smooth) to run alongside all train lines. So you end up having an option in the morning to get to school or work: take a train, spend more and get there quicker or if you’ve time on your hands and you want to save a couple of bucks ride along the bike path.

Imagine having oBikes at all the train stations (if these bike paths existed) where you could just log onto the app and ride. You could have a little oBike area alongside the path where the bikes would be neatly stored. This would reduce oBike clutter in the neighbourhood and still retain this idea of “if I show up I’ll definitely be able to get a bike”. You also wouldn’t necessarily have to park at another station at the end of your commute. If agreements were made between oBike and schools/big corporates, you could allow riders to park their bikes where they do business during the day. It would streamline the whole process and make it even more appealing for people to use the oBike service.

I’ve seen bike paths in cities like Minneapolis where if the bike path is in an area that is heavily populated and it goes to places where people need to commute, then a shitload of people will ride their bikes on them. If I were oBike I’d be lobbying the hell out of government to at least trial a bike path system alongside the train lines. The Sandringham line would be a terrific place to do it.

I wish oBike all the luck in the world because they clearly stand for getting more people out and riding and this can only be a good thing. But if they just adjust a few of their business practises I think they’ll actually be viable business and not just a nuisance to residents.