The Government’s carbon reduction strategy may be in a ‘holding pattern’ (read delayed) until after the June 8 General Election but, with 40 million UK citizens now living in areas with illegal levels of air pollution according to a new report, any effort to clean up our cities should surely be welcomed.
So in that sense Ofo’s new bike sharing scheme, which had its European launch in Cambridge last week, couldn’t be more timely. OK, it’s not going to peg pollution levels to within the EU’s legal limits in time for summer, but we’re in a situation where every little helps and the Ofo operation has already proven successful in 81 cities, mainly in China, the US – and Singapore.
The Ofo offering is app-based: you download the app and if you see an Ofo bike – they can be left anywhere – you register the bike’s individual four-digit number and you are sent a three-digit code which unlocks the bike for your to use. It costs about 50p an hour.
There are currently 20 bikes in Cambridge, free to use for a three-week trial. Ofo, which has 500 bikes slated for the UK, will decide on its next step after the trial. Other UK cities including London and Glasgow have been mooted as possible candidates for the service.
The firm has a ten-person team based in Station Road ready to handle queries via email, and deal with any issues such as bikes being left in remote locations – Ofo bikes have GPS so their location is visible to the team. Other data including average speeds, routes being taken and timings are also transmitted via the GPS system.
Ofo spokesperson Alex Myers was in Cambridge for the launch.
“If you take the future vision of Ofo we’re a community that judges its success by the positive influence it has on the city and we can have more people cycling on fewer bikes which helps the city to breathe,” Myers told Eastern Echo. “We’ve found students are early adopters but anyone with a smart phone is given that impetus to ride and they’re having more fun and being better off for it.” Recent evidence suggests that cycling lowers the risk of an early death by 40%.
There have been concerns around the fact that Ofo’s bikes can be left anywhere. Cycling campaign organisation Camcycle has objected to the lack of docking stations, saying: “We fear this will put further pressure on the already problematic cycle-parking situation in the city centre.”
However Myers says the firm is committed to working with the council to ensure that any concerns are overcome. “The data we get on usage is something we can help the council with so the city is less polluted, healthier and less cluttered.”
Time will tell! Ofo was founded by students at Peking University and now has 2.5 million cycles in China. The firm says that its vandalism rate is less than 1% globally.