Mere months after it entered the U.S. market, Chinese bike-sharing giant Ofo is shuttering most of its state-side operations.
The Beijing-based company — still the world’s largest bike-sharing entity — told U.S. employees that it would be downsizing its workforce to outposts in a handful of cities, the Washington Post reports. The company has been operating in about 30 U.S. cities, and while it’s still determining final details, it plans to continue only in select metros like San Diego and Seattle, which have created fewer regulations, according to CNN Tech.
“As we continue to bring bikeshare to communities across the globe, Ofo has begun to reevaluate markets that present obstacles,” Andrew Daley, head of Ofo North America, said in a statement today, as reported by CNN.
The company, he added, will continue to “prioritize growth in viable markets.”
Ofo was one of three dockless bike-share companies that set up shop in Seattle shortly after the metro’s docked bike-share system, Pronto, ceased operations. The city set up a regulatory pilot to test the model, as Next City covered at the time, and officials were impressed by ridership numbers that dwarfed those seen while Pronto was in existence.
Over the course of 2018, however, some cities have become increasingly wary of the dockless model — and the venture-funded start-ups helming it — even as others have jumped at its relative affordability. In January, spooked by reports of bikes left strewn about other cities’ sidewalks and streets, Sacramento devised a system of particularly stringent regulations mandating that operators pick up their stray bikes or have their fines and permits revoked (and bicycles impounded).
“Without regulation, bicycle-share businesses pose a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare,” the ordinance stated. “[D]erelict self-locking bicycles can become a major cause of blight in both residential and nonresidential neighborhoods.”
Still, dockless bikes (and then scooters) have had no trouble spreading to cities like Milwaukie, Dallas, New Orleans and a handful of smaller cities and suburbs. (Chicago’s ‘lock-to’ ordinance, requiring that the bikes be left attached to something, did ruffle the start-ups’ feathers a bit). But with Uber’s April acquisition of Jump, it’s possible that Ofo’s retreat is as much about U.S. competition as city-based regulation.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian