Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority has come down hard on the share bike business oBike, giving the City of Melbourne the power to issue fines of $3000 or more if the company fails to collect dumped or damaged bikes within a day or two of being told where they are.
The swingeing penalties dramatically change the economics of the share bike business model, which seemed prepared to endure high loss rates.
The dockless bicycle phenomenon began in Australia in June last year when Singapore-based oBike spread to Sydney where there are now four operators including Australian-based ReddyGo and two Chinese companies, Ofo and Mobike.
But the issue of bicycles left littering streets or dumped in trees and waterways has vexed local councils, which have been seeking greater powers from state governments to deal with the issue.
In Sydney’s east, Waverley Council, which includes the famed Bondi Beach, began impounding damaged and abandoned share bikes in March, charging $70 for their return.
Last week, Sydney’s Inner West Council also began impounding bikes left abandoned, with Mayor Darcy Byrne accusing operators of failing to do enough “to lift their game”.
“Having offered them the carrot, we now have to use the stick,” he said.
The council is charging $80 for a “notice of impounding”, plus $65 per staff member, per hour to collect the bikes and then $16 a day per bike in storage until it’s claimed, giving them a 28-day deadline before the bikes become council property.
But Byrne says the operators haven’t been collecting impounded bikes elsewhere, so the council is investigating how to “repurpose” the unclaimed bikes to give them to homeless and disadvantaged people.
The Mayor says he wants the NSW government to give the six councils dealing with the issue the powers they’ve asked for to regulate the bikes in Sydney.
Meanwhile, Victoria’s EPA has taken a hard line, with CEO Nial Finegan invoking the litter provisions of the Environment Protection Act and issuing a three-year Litter Abatement Notices against oBike, which give the city council the power to issue fines of $3000 for each incident where the company doesn’t act, alongside specific timeframes for removing the bikes.
The company will have just two hours to respond if the yellow bike is a hazard, such as blocking a street; 24 hours if it’s damaged, vandalised, or they’re cluttering streets “in excessive numbers”; and 48 hours for “inappropriate situations” such as up a tree. They’ll have a week to act on oBikes found in a waterway.
Finegan said the bikes are “annoying the community and damaging the liveability of this city”.
The new rules also require the company to produce a management plan for abandoned and damaged oBikes, and a publicity plan to promote a customer service hotline and email address.
Everything has to be in place by June 13 or the company faces a fine of $3,171.40 for every week they are delayed.
“The authorities are responding to a disruptive technology that has become a nuisance, an eyesore and a hazard to people’s safety. Whilst not wishing to stifle innovation in anyway, EPA will act to protect the environment for all Victorians,” Finegan said.
“The rules laid out in the Litter Abatement Notices give oBike and any other bicycle sharing company a clear set of rules, and consequences if those rules are not followed.”
oBike has been contacted for comment.
Any problems with bikes in Melbourne can be reported to the company’s Customer Service Hotline on 0452 512 453, or email [email protected]
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