Ofo hits the brakes: Bike-share company pulls out of Claremont

Bike-share company ofo has decided to leave the Claremont Colleges. (Erin Slichter • The Student Life)

Bike-share company ofo has decided to leave the Claremont Colleges, ending a popular but sometimes controversial program that offered a convenient transportation option for students.

The departure was announced in an email to Pomona College students Thursday afternoon by Bob Robinson, Assistant Vice President of Facilities and Campus Services. He wrote that it would become effective next week.

Pitzer College, which also partnered with ofo, has not yet made any announcement about the end of the program to students. Warren Biggins, Pitzer’s Sustainability Manager, wrote in an email to TSL that although Pitzer entered into a contract with ofo in July, the company had not yet been able to deliver any bikes to campus.

Robinson said Pomona would look to replace ofo with another bike-share company “as soon as possible.”

“This model complements Pomona sustainable transportation goals and supports the highly successful — but at capacity — Green Bikes lending program,” he wrote.

Biggins also wrote that he would like to have another bike-share company at Pitzer.

One possible replacement for dockless bikes is dockless electric scooters, which have recently popped up in many cities throughout the United States. For now, the city of Claremont has banned electric sharing services while it studies their effects and works out potential regulations, but it may welcome them in the future.

Alexis Reyes, Pomona’s director of sustainability, wrote in an email to TSL that ofo “showed a need for short-term and one-way bikeshare program.”

Beijing-based ofo is one of the world’s largest bikeshare companies, but it dramatically scaled back its U.S. operations in July. At the time, a message on the app assured 5C users that it was “here to stay” in Claremont, but it appears that promise has now expired.

Ofo’s partnership with Pomona was initially met with criticism from Green Bikes, a student-run free bike rental shop.

Green Bikes member Remy Rossi PO ’19 told TSL before the pilot launched that he feared it would corporatize Pomona’s bike culture “and take away a lot of what we think is really, really good about biking here.”

After the program launched in February with a free pilot, there were scattered complaints that the bikes were blocking paths, but it was well-received by many students. Between March and July, 3,516 riders took 47,140 rides totaling 23,485 miles, according to Reyes.

“Before ofo, it would take me minimum 10 minutes to get [to classes on other campuses] on foot, but now it’s super quick,” Thomas Dickstein PO ’20 told TSL in March. “[Ofo] has totally changed how I schedule my life.”

Ofo began charging students for rides this semester. The quoted rate was 50 cents per ride for rides under an hour, but some students reported being charged $1 per ride, and others reported being able to ride for free.

Andrew Nguy PO ’19 said he stopped using ofo after the free trial ended.

“If they were free and they were pulling out, then I would care a lot more,” Nguy said.

The Pomona Student Union held a discussion about the relationship between Green Bikes and ofo at Frank Dining Hall Wednesday.

Olivia Whitener PO ’19, an ofo student representative who attended, said students praised Green Bikes’ more community-based practices but also ofo’s greater convenience. They discussed how to make Green Bikes more convenient through infrastructure changes like additional bike racks and bike lanes, and additional measures to prevent bike theft, she said.

Reyes wrote that her office “will continue partnering with Green Bikes, providing $5 U-lock checkouts, and advocating for well-positioned and well-designed campus bike racks.”

This article was updated Oct. 16, 2018 at 9:12 p.m. to add comments from Biggins.

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