The arrival of Ofo in Cambridge has given rise to fears about the potential impact on local bike shops. The global bike sharing firm recently made its distinctive yellow bikes available for hire in the city and concern has been expressed about what this might mean for local firms reliant on bike rental for a proportion of their income.
20 Ofo bicycles have been deployed as part of a three-week trial and the company says more should follow. There are also plans to launch in other UK cities later in the year.
The firm has seen extraordinary growth since being launched in China in 2014, in large part because its bikes do not need require docking stations – instead, users unlock the bikes using an app.
Councillor Noel Kavanagh, Cambridgeshire County Council’s cycling champion, told Cambridge News: “I think I can imagine a company from outside Cambridge seeing the fact we are regarded as the cycling capital of the UK and thinking this is a good opportunity. But they have not taken into account that most of the population that cycles have their own bikes.
“We also have something like 40 cycle shops in Cambridge and a number of those have cycle rental as part of their revenue stream. We need to be supportive of local cycling businesses because, only recently, two of our traditional cycling shops have closed down.”
Kavanagh also pointed to a shortage of bike parking spaces in Cambridge as being another concern.
“To think they can come to Cambridge and leave bikes as part of a so-called trial is, in many ways, disrespecting the city of Cambridge.
“Politicians warned them the population here is already well served. Ofo have not thought this through. We are not a city that has a cycle famine, but we do not have the powers to stop them. It’s free enterprise.”
MP Daniel Zeichner is another who harbours concerns and he has written to the Department for Transport urging it to give local councils the power to set up a bike-parking licensing scheme.
“The Government is leaving local councils, and local people, powerless against companies with deep pockets but little understanding of how our communities work.
“Instead of just watching, the Government should be moving swiftly to give councils the powers to protect us. Bike-sharing schemes could be a great success, but not if they get off to a chaotic start – we need action to make sure it works for everyone.”
An Ofo spokesman claimed that reaction to its bikes had been positive so far. “We’re working with the council to pull together an end of trial report which we’ll be going through together. From there, we’ll be discussing the next best steps for us to take as a team.”
The firm is also keen to talk up its environmental credentials, and the spokesman added: “Only yesterday, it was confirmed that the UK Government must present ideas on how it will tackle air pollution on the 9th of May. Ofo wants to encourage more people in the UK to cycle and will help the UK Government tackle the issue of air pollution up and down the country.”