Dockless bike share pioneer Gobee quits Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - Hong Kong startup, the first of a wave of Asian dockless bike share operators that launched in Paris last year, has halted operations in the French capital, industry sources said on Friday.

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Gobee’s green bikes have virtually disappeared from the streets in the past few days and its mobile phone app was inactive in the past few days.

Gobee did not respond to requests for comment, but two industry sources said it had ceased operations. Some customers had been able to recoup their deposits, but on Friday the app’s account balance service was unavailable.

Last month, Gobee had pulled out of the Belgian capital Brussels and the French cities of Lille and Reims because of vandalism. Then, last week, it announced its withdrawal from Italy, saying 60 percent of its European fleet had been damaged or stolen.

Gobee’s exit leaves Paris with three remaining Asian-owned operators, Singapore’s oBike, with about 1,800 grey-orange bikes, and two major Chinese firms: Ofo, with about 1,000 yellow bikes, and Mobike, with several thousand red bikes.

The Asian operators, whose bikes can be parked anywhere after use, have jumped into the market while Paris switches operators for its pioneering Velib scheme.

However, in China at least, the business model for bike sharing appears to be in some trouble, as large numbers of firms go under, leaving mountains of misshapen bikes piling up on streets.

In France, the quality of the bikes appears to be an issue.

Charles Maguin, head of the cycling group Paris en Selle (Paris in the Saddle), said Gobee’s bikes had been too fragile.

User groups say the Mobikes, with their solid tyres, a driveshaft rather than a chain, and solid wheel struts instead of wire spokes, appear more resilient against vandalism and heavy use.

To prevent vandalism and theft, oBike last week made a deal with three municipalities east of Paris. In return for half the revenue, cycling associations distribute and maintain the bicycles, which have to stay within the limits of the three municipalities.

Meanwhile, Paris’s Velib switchover is not going smoothly.

Early this month, only some 200 of about 1,400 planned docking stations were in operation. The new operator, Smovengo, wants to get 20,000 Velibs on the road by the end of next month.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Kevin Liffey