Column, by Andy Chivers

The arrival of dockless bikes in 2017 heralded opportunities and problems for Oxford, for pedestrians, prospective users, our councillors and the companies themselves.

Two years after Mobike, Ofobike, Obike and Pony bikes appeared on the streets of Oxford, Cyclox arranged a public meeting to hear how the schemes are working now.

The meeting was led by Councillor Louise Upton, City Cycling Champion, who has been involved from the start.

Readers may be surprised to learn that bikeshare companies can simply put the bikes on the street in any city they like (except London) – they don’t need permission from the local authority.

The city and county councils worked with the four companies (and Cyclox) to develop a code of conduct, an agreement that we think is almost unique. Importantly each company agreed to start small – just 100 bikes each, increasing as they learned from experience. Mobikes now have 500 bikes and feels this is about right.

Ofo withdrew from Oxford earlier this year. Understandably each company needed enough bikes on the streets to make people feel they will easily find a bike when they need one.

The public on the other hand objects to bikes lying around especially if they cause obstruction.

Deliberate or accidental mechanical issues are the most problematic. Oxford has come up to expectations with moderate levels of vandalism. The design of bike can help avoid mechanical problems, so it is no surprise all the bikes have solid tyres, drum brakes and a shaft or a belt drive rather than a chain.

One-way journeys presents a problem when bikes are left somewhere that no-one wants to pick up from.

Most companies respond to this by creating a ‘geofence’ – a point beyond which the bike can’t be left. The learning in Oxford is that most journeys are in the central area and less than a mile in length.

That information suggests that the sharebikes are replacing walking rather than car or bus journeys. Students and tourists are the main groups that seem to use the bikes. For the students there is the benefit of not having to worry about their bike being stolen or needing maintenance.

So what is the future for sharebikes in Oxford? E-bikes will almost certainly be the next offering and bikes with gears are being considered.

The number of bikes has reduced and there has been a concerted effort to clear up bikes left in inconvenient places. Mobike feels the numbers are about right at the moment.

Cyclox would like to see sharebikes being used instead of motor traffic – car, bus or taxi – because of our interest in active travel and reduced air pollution – but there seems little evidence of that yet.

The next phenomenon to hit Oxford streets will be electric scooters – currently illegal on the road and the pavement but under review by the DfT. The times they are a-changin’!