Dockless bike schemes should be licensed, says London transport committee

Transport for London ought to be tightly regulating dockless bike hire schemes via operational licences, says a new report from the London Assembly Transport Committee.

Future Transport: How is London responding to technological innovation? also concerns itself with autonomous vehicles and the flying of personal drones. The report claims there have been recent failures in TfL’s approach to regulating dockless bike schemes, notably the free-for-all that happened with the launch of oBikes in London.

Committee chairman Keith Prince said: “Dockless bikes could spread the benefits of cycling to the whole city," but he added that “TfL has been caught napping on the technology front and it’s time to wake up. Uber, then oBike are two examples of a poorly prepared regulator which seems to be making it up as they go along.”

The committee acknowledged that TfL launched a dockless code of practice in September last year but recommended that this should be extended into a tougher licensing system to regulate the booming sector. The report calls for the number of operators to be limited to avoid an "excessive number of unused bikes being left to clutter pavements and roads." (There is no similar recommendation in the report to clamp down on cars parked on footways or "cluttered" on roads.)

The report says: “London’s streets need to become safer (particularly for vulnerable road users), more attractive places to walk, cycle and spend time. Technologies such as fitness apps, new types of cycle hire or improved street lighting could contribute to encouraging greater physical activity."

While oBike seems to be scaling back in the UK – it recently pulled out of Oxford – operators such as Ofo, Mobike and Urbo are ramping up. Ofo recently expanded its geofencing to allow riders to take its bikes into Camden.

The Department for Transport recently indicated that, because of Brexit time-pressures, it’s unlikely there will be a national licencing scheme for dockless bikes. 

In evidence given to the London Assembly Transport Committee in October last year TfL’s director of transport innovation Michael Hurwitz said:

"There were issues with oBike. They did not tell anyone they were coming; they launched without a helpline, without a proven operating model, without an understanding of the complexity of boroughs and the powers of the transport authority, and therefore there were issues and it caused a number of boroughs, and us as well, significant concerns."

He added: "We ended up asking them to remove the bikes and they did. We did not crack down immediately because we want to try to welcome innovation, and the fact is this is potentially something that could really increase access to cycling. There are opportunities here."

One of the next reports from the transport committee will be one on cycling infrastructure. The committee has been quizzing London Mayor Sadiq Khan on whether he is as committed to protected cycling infrastructure as his predecessor. It is also aiming to find out whether "segregation delivered the anticipated benefits" and how many cyclists are using the new routes. The committee will also be evaluating whether "segregation had negative consequences for other road users and, if necessary, how can this be mitigated."This report is due out at the end of February.

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