Ofo urges SF authorities to revisit bike-sharing permit decision

January 25, 2018 18:58
China’s Ofo has urged San Francisco transport authorities to follow the example of other US cities and allow multiple operators to participate in dockless bike-sharing service trial programs. Photo: Reuters

Bicycle-sharing startup Ofo has written to transport authorities in the US city of San Francisco to reconsider their decision to deny a permit to the Beijing-based firm. 

In a letter to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), Ofo's head of North America Government Affairs, David London, expressed "strong disappointment" at the agency's decision to issue a single, exclusive permit to a US firm as the city conducts a dockless bike-sharing service pilot program. 

In the letter, which was addressed to SFMTA director Ed Reiskin, London pointed out that Ofo had liaised with the agency during the past six months, striving to fulfill the requirements for obtaining a permit with San Francisco, TechCrunch reported.

Despite that, the SFMTA issued an exclusive permit to New York-based JUMP, saying it will not grant any other stationless bike-sharing permits for a period of 18 months while the JUMP pilot is in effect.

The agency justified its decision, saying dockless bike-sharing is new for San Francisco and that it needs to move with caution.

London in his letter reiterated that his firm's goal has always been to obtain permission to roll out its stationless bike-sharing services in San Francisco and complement the city's current dock system.

He urged SFMTA to consider reopening the permit process and continue granting permits to other startups which satisfy the requirements, and demonstrate a commitment to enhancing the transportation system of San Francisco.

The executive wrote that it was "with great surprise and concern" that they recently received a notice informing them that SFMTA had decided to issue a single, exclusive permit for the dockless bike-sharing trial, according to the letter that was posted on the TechCruch website.

Poiting out that other US cities, such as Seattle and Charlotte, "have created open and fair permitting processes, where multiple dockless bike-sharing operators are encouraged to partake" in pilot programs, London called on SFMTA to rethink its decision.

The letter was sent after the San Francisco agency granted an exclusive permit to US bike-sharing startup JUMP earlier in January.

Asked for its response, an SFMTA spokesperson told TechCrunch in an email that JUMP had been the only company that had actually completed an application after the agency initiated the application process for the bike-share permit in March last year.

The spokesperson reiterated that SFMTA will not issue any other stationless bike-share permits while the JUMP trial program is underway.

Shared bikes in San Francisco will increase in number to about 5,000, between Ford’s GoBike program and JUMP, the spokesperson, identified as Paul Rose, said.

SFMTA is adopting a "thoughtful approach" to dockless bike-sharing, he said, adding that the agency wants to ensure that "there will not be an over-concentration of shared bikes in the public right-of-way or an imbalance in their geographical distribution."

Valued at US$2 billion, Ofo is one of the bike-sharing giants from China. Last July, the firm raised US$700 million in a Series E funding round that was led by Alibaba, Hony Capital and CITIC Private Equity.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 25

Translation by Jonathan Chong with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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