Pomona College has invited bike sharing company ofo to the 5Cs for a two-week pilot program beginning Feb. 21, but staff at Pomona’s existing free bike rental shop, Green Bikes, have concerns about the program and the company’s motivations.
Ofo is a Beijing-based company that lets users rent its dockless bikes through an app and park them anywhere. The bikes include built-in steel locking mechanisms and GPS trackers to prevent theft. Ofo currently has more than 10 million bikes in over 200 cities globally.
Pomona’s assistant director of sustainability, Alexis Reyes, wrote in an email to TSL that during the pilot, ofo bikes will be free to use for 5C students, faculty, and staff. If ofo stays at the 5Cs after the pilot, it will charge $70 for a yearly plan — discounted to $35 a year for low-income students, as determined by ofo — or $0.50 an hour. These prices are 50 percent less than ofo’s standard rates.
Reyes said the dockless feature of ofo bikes — meaning they can be locked without being placed on a rack — makes them very convenient.
“Someone who would rather have a bike wherever they need it on campus, only ride a bike one way, or doesn’t want responsibility for the bike year round could benefit from ofo,” she wrote, adding that ofo could also benefit faculty and staff who live close by, as an alternative to driving.
Reyes said ofo gave a presentation at a 5C facilities meeting in November, but Pomona is ultimately leading the initiative. Christopher Waugh, Pomona’s associate dean of students and dean of campus life, wrote in an email to TSL that an ofo representative gave a presentation to ASPC Jan. 26. to foster support for the program, though it was already approved by the college.
If ofo stays at the 5Cs beyond the pilot program, it will give 10 percent of revenue generated back to Pomona to further develop bike infrastructure on campus, Reyes added.
ASPC President Maria Vides PO ’18 said ofo may hire students as mechanics.
“That way we don’t only have this influx of money in one direction, but we also have jobs created on campus,” she said.
Vides said ofo wants to partner with Green Bikes by training staff to fix their bikes. However, many student employees at Green Bikes aren’t happy about the proposed partnership.
“We wouldn’t be fixing ofo’s bikes,” said Remy Rossi PO ’19, a Green Bikes manager.
Mechanic Dale Macauley PO ’20 said the colleges need more bike racks, not more bikes.
“A lot of our bikes just need parts and can still be in service for a long time,” said Noah Levine PO ’18, another mechanic. “It just seems odd from a sustainability standpoint to bring all these new bikes.”
Green Bikes staff heard about ofo’s impending arrival at the 5Cs in a Jan. 25 email from Reyes, their supervisor, and met with Reyes about it Feb. 9. Still, Macauley said many staffers felt excluded from the discussion about the partnership with ofo.
“It was not really a question of ‘if,’ but kind of like, ‘when,’” Macauley said. “It’s indicative of the larger issue of the administration making unilateral decisions … without even consulting students or asking them what their needs are.”
Ofo runs contrary to the bike culture on campus, Macauley said. “[Green Bikes] is really by students, for students,” he said.
Rossi agreed, and said having a bike company on campus would disrupt the 5Cs’ current bike atmosphere.
“I think throwing ofo into the mix would corporatize that and take away a lot of what we think is really, really good about biking here,” he said.
Levine also expressed concern about the overt branding on ofo’s bikes — they are painted bright yellow, with ofo’s logo printed on the side — and skepticism about the company’s motivations.
“There’s something about having a campus overrun with bikes that are advertising a brand that seems sort of antithetical to what the college campus is all about,” he said. “[Ofo] aims to use the 5Cs as a launching pad to spread the service throughout [Claremont and the surrounding area]. We’re concerned about being instrumentalized as part of this.”
Other students said they had concerns about ofo’s business practices in general.
“This isn’t just a campus issue,” said Josefina Modest PO ’19, another Green Bikes mechanic. “This company is trying to come into the U.S. as a whole. … A large way that they’re trying to do that is through circumventing the local government and going through campuses.”
Some students, however, see some utility in the ofo program.
Efrain Gonzalez PO ’20 said he wouldn’t use a bike share program like ofo regularly but would make use of it for longer trips.
“That would be really convenient,” he said. “[I would use it] for my further classes or just dining halls.”