Sydney councils have given bike-share operators 3 months to ‘clean up their act’

A pile of Obikes in Bronte, Sydney. Photo by Brook Mitchell /Getty Images

Sydney councils have combined and will give bike share operators three months to lift their game or face a crackdown.

Inner West Mayor Cr Darcy Byrne called a meeting of the mayors six councils, City of Sydney, Randwick, Waverley, Woollahra and Canada Bay yesterday to develop universal guidelines on how bike sharing should operate amid a flood of complaints about bikes being dumped across the city.

The dockless bicycle phenomenon began in Melbourne in June this year, thanks to Singapore-based oBike, followed by Sydney in August. They we joined immediately by Australian-based ReddyGo’s red bike, for a total of around 1500 bikes in Sydney, and last month, 600 yellow bikes of Ofo began appearing in the city, Waverley and Inner West — although the Alibaba-backed Chinese business promised to take more care with their placement and monitoring and also geo-fenced their operating zones.

In Melbourne, the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle dalled them as “urban clutter” and some councils began impounding the bikes, but Byrne doesn’t believe that’s the right path to take.

“They appear relatively cheap to produce and they seem to be able to lose a few, so the operators don’t seem that concerned about keeping ownership of the bikes,” Byrne told Business Insider.

“We probably have the power to impound bikes but that comes at a cost to ratepayers.”

But like rogue shopping trolleys, the bikes are being left in places where they’re blocking footpaths, have been thrown in the harbour or left outside suburban homes for weeks on end. They’re fitted with a GPS and potential users find them via a mobile app.

Byrne says share bikes are “a great development”, and feedback from operators acknowledges that some degree of regulation is required.

“We want to ensure bike sharing schemes are safe, successful and supported by local residents,” he said.

“However the current haphazard dispersal of bikes on local streets can’t go on.

“We are offering a carrot and stick approach to operators, and we expect them to collaborate with us immediately to clean up the schemes so that punitive action is not required.”

Byrne said his own council had looked at bike sharing previously, but considered it came with “insurmountable” problems such as the city’s hilly topography, lack of density and helmet laws – “people don’t like to share a helmet” – so he’s pleased to see operators give it a go, but doesn’t want a free for all.

“The way they’ve established themselves in whacking down thousands of bikes and this needs to be fixed so they’re not creating public safety issues,” he said.

“We need a joint regulatory approach and don’t want to strangle the sector in red tape from six different councils, so we’re offering offering operators united set of guidelines and giving them three months to lift standards and clean up their act.”

A review early next year will look at how well the operators had adhered to the guidelines and the councils are looking at potential permit or tender systems for operators, and whether a fee or levy system should be introduced for bike infrastructure.

The City of Sydney council had been in discussions with oBike and ReddyGo after the bikes began appearing on CBD streets and under the joint agreement, the councils want the operators to share their data so they can get a clearer picture of demand and bike journeys and where bikes are deposited.

They also want to give council rangers access to the locking mechanisms if needed, and want the operators to monitor bike locations and respond to avoid any build up and maintain even distribution.

Byrne said the bike operators would be legally responsible for any liability issues about where the bikes are left, and the councils were seeking clarification about the legal framework under which bike share companies operate.

All bikes will be expected to have a 24/7 reporting number and the operators maintain a hotline to respond.

The councils are also looking at “hot spot” parking sites in designated areas.