Life cycle: is it the end for Britain’s dockless bike schemes?

Three major cycle-sharing companies have pulled out of Britain’s cities in just over a year. Can the schemes ever be sustainable?

Not so long ago, Chinese bike-sharing company ofo was planning to put 150,000 of its distinctive yellow bikes on London streets. Buoyed by $2bn of venture capital funding, ofo was going to “optimise city resources” and “save public space”. Mobike, another Chinese start-up and ofo’s main competitor, was also apparently in the business of tech-altruism. Its journey data would provide “invaluable insights” for local planning departments. But in January, ofo followed oBike and Urbo to become the third dockless operator to withdraw from Britain in just over a year.

As a result of the restructure, Adam Rose, ofo’s former operations manager in Sheffield, was made redundant. “It was really exciting at the start,” Rose said. “It was was all about bringing other cities in, all about land grab. “But then suddenly that all changed. Bikes weren’t being delivered, there were cashflow issues, suppliers weren’t being paid”. Rose himself is still owed £6,000 in expenses and remains unemployed.

Rose can’t explain the exact reasons for the termination. “We just got told what to do by China, never why. We had to come up with our own assumptions and give our own stories to the staff on the ground.”

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