Bike share giant ofo announces Thursday launch

Global bike share giant ofo has received its permit from Seattle and will launch 1,000 of its yellow bikes Thursday.

Seattle is the company’s first U.S. city, joining Spin and LimeBike on Seattle streets and expanding the city’s $1 free-floating bike count by another 50 percent. Like with the other companies, you will need a smart phone, data plan and credit/debit card to unlock bikes. And the parking rules are the same.  There is one difference with ofo, though: Their $1 gets you an hour instead of 30 min like Spin and LimeBike. The bike share price wars have already begun.

The company raised $700 million is venture capital in July as investors go big on the company’s global expansion potential. That includes the U.S., of course, and Seattle is currently acting as the de facto gateway to the major U.S. city market. Eyes all over the country are on Seattle, waiting to see how our city’s permit rules work out before implementing rules of their own.

Details on the Thursday launch, from ofo:

When: Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Where: Art Marble 21, 731 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA

Why: Meet the ofo US team and test out the technology behind Seattle’s newest 1,000 shared bicycles.

Time: 1:30 PM

To give you an idea of why investors are so bullish on the company, here’s a very exciting claim in its FAQ:

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30 Responses to Bike share giant ofo announces Thursday launch

  1. Norma McGee says:

    I’m still waiting for a way to try one of these out without owning a smartphone.

    • NickS says:

      I’m excited to see the further expansion. An additional 1,000 bikes would hopefully help access to them in outer neighborhoods. You can barely go a block or two in Pioneer Square without tripping over a LimeBike or Spin, but there were only one each in my Rainier Beach neighborhood, both approximately .75 mile away. These don’t really become a viable option unless you can expect to find one within a 5 minute walk.

      Norma, expect more smartphone requirements in the future; it’s simply too convenient and cheap for companies to build on the nearly ubiquitous device. It saves them money; in the case of bike share, it removes the need for a screen and an input mechanism, and it reduces power requirements allowing them to use a smaller and lighter battery.

      Hopefully we will see cheaper smartphone plan options that will lower barriers to those on fixed or low incomes. Right now, data is prohibitively expensive compared to relatively inexpensive pay as you go voice and text plans. While T-Mobile Prepaid Pay As You Go, for example, is $3/month, and used smartphones can be quite inexpensive, 2GB of data from the same company would add an additional $20/month plus taxes and fees.

      • Lee Colleton says:

        This is a concern which would be addressed by municipal broadband. It’s a difficult issue to get through given the political influence bought by the incumbent Internet Service Provider monopolies. People who have at least the minimum service at their residence are allowed free access to the Internet at many places throughout the city. This presents a digital equity issue because only people with fixed residential addresses can possibly get access at this low rate. If you only get Wi-Fi service from Xfinity, it costs MORE than their lowest tier of service which includes FREE Wi-Fi.

        The city ought to require that their Wi-Fi pass cost no more than their lowest monthly rate. The current situation is perversely discriminatory.

      • Bruce Nourish says:

        “Norma, expect more smartphone requirements in the future; it’s simply too convenient and cheap for companies to build on the nearly ubiquitous device.”

        +1. I’ve used GRIDBikes in Phoenix/Tempe, whose bikes have a keypad, which they use for unlocking. Spin and LimeBike are vastly easier to use, and not just because the Arizona sun bleaches the numbers off the GRIDBikes keypads.

      • Joe Wolf says:

        FWIW I am seeing quite a few Limes in Madrona, including east of 33rd (crest of Madrona Ridge).

    • ronp says:

      Well, you can get a Moto E4 for $129 – https://www.amazon.com/Moto-4th-Generation-Exclusive-Lockscreen/dp/B071YC3G5V and put a Mint SIM in it for one year for $180 https://www.mintsim.com/plans/ (2GB data per month)

    • Josh says:

      Rather than a solution that doesn’t require a smartphone, I suspect we’ll see solutions to the ownership of smartphones.

      If you really need a phone as a tool, not for social media and streaming video, but for account authorizations and email, you don’t really need much data.

      Discount carriers have free or low-cost service plans for people who really only need that level of access. For example, Freedompop offers 500 texts, 200 minutes, and 500MB each month for free. They *hope* you’ll use more and pay for it, but they don’t bundle it in, so if you really just want to unlock bikes, you can take a lot of rides for 500MB.

      That leaves phones, and the world is awash in outdated smartphones that are still perfectly good for that sort of basic use, and routinely available for under $50.

      The real barriers are awareness and access, not cost. As more and more services recognize the efficiency of operating on mobile apps, some agencies will eventually recognize it’s cheaper to give away mobile devices with free service rather than invent their own infrastructure.

    • djw says:

      The country is now at ~80% smartphone use, and it’s going up fast. It’s probably a bit higher than that in Seattle, and the non-smartphone population skews elderly harder than it skews poor–a group less likely to be interested in bikeshare. The number of potential consumers without smartphones is small, and growing smaller very fast.

      It would be great if there was some easy way for non-smartphone people to access this service. But if the services aren’t ultimately profitable, no one will be able to use them. Putting a bunch of energy into some new technology to cater to a niche market that’s shrinking by the month isn’t likely to make much sense. I have no idea if this model can be profitable or not, but doing stuff like that makes it less likely.

  2. Joseph Singer says:

    Anyone have any idea how many trips in gross between Lime and Spin so far?

  3. Peri Hartman says:

    Getting off topic here, but…
    Another future way to do this is something similar to an 800 phone number. What you would have is a program where a company could pay a fee to various carriers to allow their site to be viewed without a data plan. Thus, if you had a smart phone with no data plan, you could access these “free” sites.

    • Michael E. says:

      This is very close to the net neutrality nightmare, the big companies pay for free/discount access and no one else can afford to compete.

      Cheap pay as you go plans and municipal broadband/telecommunications seem like a possible solution.

      I feel like the system could also be done over SMS except for tracking the user via their phone. Do the bikes not have GPS as well they can use to track during a ride?

      • Peri Hartman says:

        You have a good point. If it expanded to the point where you could stream large quantities of data without a plan – e.g. watch a Disney movie, that could be problematic. On the other hand, it’s not the same because you – the end user – will pay one way or another. Either you choose vendor A and pay for your data plan or you choose vendor B and pay a higher subscription rate.

        What’s different from non net neutrality is you end up not having the choice between A and B because A simply becomes unavailable at the same quality as B.

  4. Ray Minor says:

    This looks like a waste of time and money.

    • William says:

      Pretty sure that this is not true but if it is “a waste of time and money”, it is somebody else’s time and somebody else’s money!

      • Ray Minor says:

        William,

        Other bike share programs have already failed in this city. Let’s be real here, the economic model of bike sharing is flawed. The streets are already congested enough with riders using their own bikes. Now we have to deal with other irresponsible riders leaving these beat up pieces of crap everywhere. It’s a terrible idea and that’s a proven fact (http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-city-council-votes-to-buy-struggling-pronto-bike-share-program/). It’s also only a matter of time before this company’s program becomes a liability to the tax payer’s of Seattle just like the last one. I for one am not interested in bailing out another failed bike company. Open your eyes, just because you “like bikes” doesn’t make this a good idea.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        Ray, I think you will be proven wrong on more than one point, but time will tell.
        1. Bike sharing is flawed. While it hasn’t worked yet in Seattle, it is working in many cities.
        2. Streets are congested with cyclists. Really?
        3. The city will bail out these private companies. The city very decisively abandoned Pronto. I don’t see an indication to reverse that.

      • Joseph Singer says:

        It hasn’t been two weeks and already you are all doom and glooming the new bike shares. I have a feeling you really want the new bike shares to fail. What’s this nonsense about “beat up bikes?”

      • Ben P says:

        Lololol, congested with cyclists? Really? But ok, I’ll bite. In what respect has the volume of cyclists slowed your commute? For example, I consider Seattle to have serious car congestion. The difference between day and night by car in Seattle is… well, night and day. I still remember the time I accidentally got stuck on Mercer for 45 minutes. Contrast that with say, congestion on the Burk. It can take me an additional 5 minutes to go from metropolitan market to the Fremont bridge during rush hour, but half of that is peds or their dogs getting in my way.

        Ok, so maybe you just meant parking congestion. Again, parking in Seattle can be tight. I’ve definitely paid close to 20 bucks for downtown parking before. But that was in a car. As far as bike parking goes, that is my favorite thing about biking in Seattle. It is sooo easy to find a spot to lock up.

        I kinda get the feeling you are either a driver worried about getting stuck behind more bikes, or a ped worried about sidewalk taken up by bike parking. Or the worst, you could not care about the issue at all, but know you’ll get a rise out of the bike bozos by vomiting nonsense on their blog.

        That isn’t to say I disagree with you entirely. For example, it was definitely fiscally irresponsible to buy out pronto. But I can’t take you seriously when you juxtapose your possibly valid points with such utter nonsense.

      • Ray Minor says:

        So ignorant…

        Peri Hartman says:
        August 18, 2017 at 7:59 am
        Ray, I think you will be proven wrong on more than one point, but time will tell.
        1. Bike sharing is flawed. While it hasn’t worked yet in Seattle, it is working in many cities. (Seattle is a bike-friendly place, this isn’t Europe, if it doesn’t work here it won’t work anywhere. These are venture-backed companies are that losing money, the economics aren’t there for this type of business to suceeed).
        2. Streets are congested with cyclists. Really? (Yes, I’ve already seen bikes dumped from this company throughout the city.)
        3. The city will bail out these private companies. The city very decisively abandoned Pronto. I don’t see an indication to reverse that. (They shut it down, but they also paid tax payer money to purchase a worthless asset. Know your facts before you chime in.)

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  6. SGG says:

    The best part of all is that all this is privately operated. Three competing firms launching an emerging product, what could be more exciting! I got a chance to use a limebike the other day near the stadiums and its a cool concept that seems to be taking off. I would be interested to know what their maintenance strategy is for their fleet, and how, or if they move the bikes around ever.

  7. Meg says:

    Has anyone ridden an ofo yet? How does it compare to lime bike and spin from a user viewpoint? My mom was visiting and rode a spin to our destination and a LimeBike back and felt like the spin was much better for her because she is a tiny 5 ft person and the Spin felt lighter and easier for her to manage. Also, can one person check out two of the same bike? Or does each person riding need to have a phone and the app downloaded? Will there be so many bike companies that people will become relevant to download yet another app each time?

    I love this exciting time for bikes and for Seattle! can’t wait for the bike revolution!

    • Joseph Singer says:

      Just downloading another app is no big deal unless your phone is low on app storage space. As far as the user it’s only few taps to get to the relevant app.

    • Ben P says:

      I hope these companies have decent APIs so someone can put together a master bike app which will show you and check out the nearest bike, regardless of type. Looking through 4 apps sounds tedious

      • asdf2 says:

        +1 as a consumer. But I’m not sure it’s in each company’s individual business interest be to do so. Each company would rather see everyone just use their app, than whatever bike is closest.

        Like what Southwest does in the airline business.

  8. Elizabeth Connor says:

    Bike-sharing is terrific; why all the gloom and doom here?

    I only know of Paris (as a visitor) and D.C. (as a regular rider). Both are wonderful

    http://www.govtech.com/dc/articles/What-We-Can-Learn-from-Washington-DCs-Broken-Bikeshare-Program.html

    Notable quote: “In D.C., the system broke even on an operations basis (give or take a few thousand dollars) from Day 1.”

    Happy riding.

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