Dockless Bike-Sharing Company Causes Controversy in Orlando

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    Since 2005, states all across the nation have seen a 46% increase in the number of people choosing to commute by bicycle. Whether trying to lead a greener lifestyle or simply to get more exercise, it’s no surprise that bike sharing has become a popular alternative to bike ownership. Many Florida-based bike-sharing companies, like DecoBike, CycleHop, and Orlando’s homegrown Juice Bike Share have found success in the Sunshine State, but now ofo, a billion-dollar bike-sharing company based in China, may shake things up.

    Unlike the other bike-sharing companies already available in the area, ofo uses a dockless model. Instead of special racks which customers use to obtain and return their bikes, ofo allows customers to leave the bikes in public parking lots of other designated spaces around their city. Although ofo believes this system lets customers begin and end their rides closer to their preferred locations than models that mandate rack drop-off and pick-up, it’s proved a problem in the past.

    In cities where ofo operates, like Beijing, Dallas, and Seattle, the company has faced backlash for allowing public places, and even driveways and accessibility ramps, to be clogged with bicycles. When no legislation exists in a municipality pertaining to bike docking, customers can technically leave their bikes just about anywhere. The problem has angered local governments, but it’s even getting other dockless bike companies up in arms; ofo’s aim is to literally flood the market with bikes to maximize profit, regardless of the impact it could make in major metropolises.

    Ofo has also hired a Florida-based lobbyist, Brian Ballard, to push for a state law that would regulate dockless bike-sharing companies. The bill introduced by House Republicans, HB 1033, actually prohibits individual cities from adopting their own regulations and would render any existing ones null and void. The bill would also prevent cities from taxing companies like ofo and would not give them any control over how the bikes can be used or stored in public places or even how many bikes would be deployed.

    There’s no doubt that cycling is great exercise, and that’s something more Americans could benefit from. After all, burning an extra 300 calories a day can help a person lose between one-half to one full pound per week. But considering the already established popularity of local bike sharing companies, it’s clear that many Floridians have already embraced the concept of cycling.

    That said, some could find ofo’s setup more appealing. For one thing, it’s less expensive. Juice Bike Share charges $8 per hour (if you don’t have a membership) and tacks on an additional fee if the bike isn’t returned to one of their racks. Ofo, on the other hand, charges only $1 an hour and would allow for more freedom. Ofo’s bikes are lightweight and feature solid rubber tires (meaning they don’t deflate). It’s no surprise that the rapidly expanding company now has a network of over 200 million registered users.

    Ofo plans to launch in the near future and will hire local staff to manage and relocate bikes, if necessary. But whether local officials and residents will embrace the idea of dockless bike-sharing remains to be seen.