Cycle hire firms in row amid fears influx of bike schemes will clutter London's streets

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A row has erupted over new and emerging London cycle hire firms amid fears the influx of bikes will clutter up the capital’s streets.

Head of policy at walking charity Living Streets, Tom Pion, said regulation is needed if several schemes are all competing for business.

It comes after start-up firm oBike was told to remove its bikes from a borough’s streets just days after it launched to rival London’s well-known ‘Boris Bikes.’

At the same time, campaigners are urging city authorities to consider infrastructure that would better accommodate the recent influx of dock-less bikes.

Local authorities complained Singapore-based company oBike did not attempt to consult them before leaving its bikes strewn across the borough.

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oBike: The new scheme is to rival Boris bikes in London (oBike)

Another rival company has since waded into the row in a bid to emerge as a more desirable scheme for the capital.

Acknowledging oBike’s alleged failings, firm Ofo said cooperation with communities and local councils is key to the success of schemes.

It said in statement: “We have met with a number of local authorities across the country, and plan to meet with many more in the coming weeks to discuss our plans and prospective roll out. 

“We are keen to establish a strong working relationship with councils so that they are fully aware of our plans and understand our business model.”

Concerns have been raised over potential safety risks oBikes are causing, being “abandoned” and blocking pavements.

The start-up was even told to remove its bikes from Hammersmith and Fulham borough until a consultation on the scheme with the council takes place.

Mr Pion said parking spaces for the bikes would be necessary to avoid future “cluttering”, urging authorities to consider how to regulate the fast-emerging industry.

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The so-called ‘Boris Bikes’ are available at docking stations across London (PA Wire/PA Images)

He said: “Finding a space in already busy streets, full of cars and pedestrians, there is always going to be the threat that these [hired bicycles] block up streets.

“A way to regulate them, so that they can be introduced in a way that’s positive for London, is absolutely essential if this is going to work.

He added: “More people cycling has fantastic benefits for our health and environment, and these schemes could help boost sustainable transport… It just needs to be done right.”

Pictures emerged online of at least one of oBike’s bicycles carrying a highway obstruction notice served by the authority.

A spokesman for Hammersmith and Fulham Council said the way some of the bikes are being left create “a potential hazard for pedestrians – particularly the disabled.”

The company has since said it is working with local authorities to ensure its roll-out is “as smooth as possible,” and have temporarily removed its bikes from the borough. 

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Cycle hire: Hammersmith and Fulham Council placed an obstruction notice on one of the bikes (Michael Passingham trustedviews.com)

Streets campaigners have called for authorities to consider how the schemes will affect pedestrians before allowing them to be rolled out.

Steve Chambers, policy and research coordinator for Living Streets said: “Pavements are for people and bikes should not be left to block the footpath. It is up to TfL and the boroughs to provide adequate bike parking.”

Like ‘Boris Bikes’, known officially as Santander Cycles, oBike’s system allows cyclists to rent bicycles for a fee for every 30-minute journey.

But unlike the cycles introduced by former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, they do not need to be docked at a station.

London’s walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman said it is “vital” dock less bike schemes are introduced in the correct way.

He added: “We need dockless bike operators to work with TfL and borough councils to ensure that these bikes work for all Londoners and don’t impact negatively on other cyclists, road users and pedestrians. 

“These schemes have real potential to make cycling more accessible for many more Londoners but it is vital that they are introduced in a way that suits our capital.”


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