Another Chinese bike-sharing startup is about to drop hundreds of dockless bicycles on London's streets

Ofo bikeOfoA yellow ofo bike.

Chinese bike sharing startup ofo will put some of its bikes on the streets of London after successful trials across Oxford and Cambridge.

The company said on Tuesday that it is putting 200 bikes in Hackney — a trendy neighbourhood in East London — as part of a London trial. If the trial is successful, ofo said it would increase the number of bikes it has in the London borough.

ofo has plenty of money behind it to do this. Founded by five Peking University students in 2014, the company has raised over $US1.2 billion (£930 million) in funding. It has over 8 million bikes in 170 cities and by the end of 2017 it hopes to have 20 million bikes available to the public.

Unlike Santander’s so-called “Boris bikes”, the ofo bikes do not need to be docked at a station.

How the ofo bikes work

ofo’s bikes can be used hired through a smartphone app for 50p for 30 minutes and can be picked up and dropped off anywhere that bike parking is allowed. Riders don’t need to pay a deposit before use. To access a bike, riders must download the ofo app and unlock their nearest bike via Bluetooth connection. Once their ride is complete, users close the lock to complete their ride and make it available for the next person to use.

Rival firm oBike also operates a dock-free bike sharing scheme. The company (also from China) was criticised by councils in July for “littering” the streets with its bikes.

Hammersmith & Fulham Council published a blog post in which it criticised the way oBike launched its service. It said that around 400 bikes “appeared” on Thursday morning “without any consultation at all.” It went on to say that “most [of the bicycles] had been left at right angles to the kerb, partially obstructing the footpath, and creating a potential hazard for pedestrians — particularly the disabled.”

It looks as though ofo is treading carefully after oBike’s messy London launch. Joseph Seal-Driver, ofo’s UK operations director, said in a statement:

“We’re delighted to announce that ofo is coming to Hackney, a borough famed for leading the way on cleaner, greener transport, with the highest cycling rates in the Capital. We hope Hackney residents will take our bikes for a test drive when they hit the streets on Thursday.

We’re very proud to be working closely with such committed partners in Hackney Council. They have demonstrated the kind of innovative thinking that will help ease London’s perennial problems with congestion and pollution. We hope this partnership serves as an example for other boroughs and cities to follow suit and take positive steps toward re-shaping how we travel in cities.”

Additional reporting by James Cook.

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