Oxford's first dockless bike sharing scheme has come to the city in time for the Alumni Weekend

Ofo bikes in Frideswide Square, Aug 22, 2017

Alumni visiting Oxford for the Alumni Weekend on September 15-17 will likely be greeted by bright yellow bicycles of the sit-up-and-beg variety.

The first hundred canary-yellow bikes were scattered around the city on August 21 by Chinese company Ofo, as part of a six-week trial that will coincide with the University’s popular Alumni Weekend.

The main locations were St Giles, Broad Street and of course Frideswide Square, immediately next to the railway station. (Pictured)

Users do have to register to use a bicycle with a smart phone, downloading an ‘App’. The App unlocks the bike’s integrated lock.

Unlike the Boris-bike scheme in London, which has cost tax-payers £60m since launch in 2010 and relies on docking stations, the new wave of bike sharing schemes poised to sweep Europe are dockless.

Ofo bike integrated lockOfo Operations Director Joseph Seal-Driver claims that the company was attracted to Oxford because of its attempts to address transport problems. 

‘Oxford's zero emissions zone is just the type of bold and aggressive thinking we need if we are serious about tackling air pollution and climate change.’

‘After a successful trial phase in Cambridge we are looking to roll out into a number of cities around the UK,’ he said, referring to a trial that began in Cambridge earlier this year.

The great advantage for cash-strapped city Councils is that the scheme costs nothing, but the fear is that the bikes will be poorly maintained and badly parked.

Anticipating this, Oxford City Council’s cycling champion, councillor Louise Upton, has helped to devise a Code of Conduct, anticipating further launches by other bike sharing providers such as oBikes, YoBike and MoBike. The Code includes a provision that says bikes should be parked adjacent to existing bike parking, so as not to obstruct pedestrians. 

Chairman of Oxford’s leading bicycle advocacy group Dr Simon Hunt (Emeritus Fellow, Keble College), is cautiously optimistic, seeing the potential benefit of getting more people cycling around Oxford but adding, ‘There isn't a lot of cycle parking in the city and these bikes could be left in places affecting pedestrians and other cyclists.’

He adds: ‘The quality of the bike is going to be all important and whether they are properly maintained.’

Cambridge City Council leader Lewis Herbert said: ‘Being a historic city, like Oxford, we can't cope with a 'leave and dump a bike anywhere' scheme.’

Oxford City Council’s cycling champion, councillor Louise Upton, said: ‘There are lots of positives about this. The more people who can get bikes the better.’


By Fiona Spence

Great idea - Can I register in advance from the comfort of my home.

By Steve Garton

Brave initiatives are long overdue and Councils can do what the free bike initiatives are doing - open up access for an unmet need. Ask and act on ideas for regulation from the bike users themselves. You may be surprised at the great ideas proposed by people who care for progress. It's called co-creation, and it's (literally) very healthy. Democracy on wheels :)

By Ian Morson

I am old enough to recall the attempt in the late 1960s to introduce free bikes to Oxford. It followed a hippy-style Dutch idea, and free, white bicycles appeared across the city. Unfortunately venality won out over naive 60s principles. The bikes were taken, repainted and appropriated as private property.

By Simon Hunt

It's wrong to claim that Ofo is the first dockless system in Oxford.
There has been a dockless bike hire scheme in Oxford for over a year. Bainton Bikes have operated this efficiently since May 2016 using a mobile app that covers cities worldwide, called Donkey. As I write now, there are 31 bikes shown available in Oxford. The specification is higher than the Ofo bikes: they have gears, for instance. The pricing encourages day-long hire rather than single-trip hire. Bainton bikes should be returned to one of a number of standard specific drop-off points, not simply left anywhere.
Your headline "and they're free" is misleading. During the present start-up period, Ofo is offering free rides in Oxford as a loss-leader, but time-based charging for each trip will be introduced soon.
We're very lucky in Oxford to have five different public bike-share systems:
- conventional hire from many cycle shops operating bike hire
- a dock-based scheme, Oxonbike, which now includes e-bikes. Similar to Vélibe in Paris, Bicing in Barcelona, Santander "Boris" bikes in London, etc.
- Brompton folding bikes from BromptonDock's automatic self-serve bike locker at Oxford railway station
- two dockless systems, via the apps Donkey and Ofo
- an online peer-to-peer system, operated by Cycle.land, for hirers to rent from individual owners. Like AirBnB, but for cycles. (If you choose this, check the bike is safe!)
Regrettably, none of these schemes (yet) focusses on the would-be cyclists in Oxford's seriously socially-deprived areas like Barton, Rose Hill and Blackbird Leys. Residents there are pretty good at using smartphones too.

By A visitor to Oxford

Brilliant idea but is it practical?
Seeing so many being left laying all over the place making obstacles for pedestrians how long before a serious accident occurs?
What's wrong with the "Boris" model? At least having stands!