October 9, 2017 / 5:22 PM / 2 years ago

China's bike-sharing scheme leader Ofo plans Paris debut

PARIS (Reuters) - China’s bike-sharing scheme operator Ofo plans to launch its bicycles in Paris around year-end in a move to become a dominant player in Europe.

FILE PHOTO - Ofo bike-sharing bicycles are pictured in Singapore August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Ofo, which operates 10 million bikes in China, launched a fleet of 4,000 in Milan last month and has begun operations in Vienna, Valencia and the London borough of Hackney.

“We are ready to launch in Paris, we want to start by year-end or early next year, maybe more quickly if possible,” Ofo France general manager Laurent Kennel told Reuters.

Ofo is also in talks with other French and European cities about rolling out its dockless bicycles, which can be parked anywhere and unlocked with a smartphone app.

Ofo will compete with Paris’ pioneering Velib bike-sharing scheme, which has inspired similar set-ups in cities worldwide.

Unlike Ofo’s bikes, Velib’s 24,000 bicycles must be parked in 1,800 docking stations spaced 300 meters from one another.

“Our service is complementary to the existing subsidized public offering,” Kennel said.

Asked about problems in China with parking too many bikes in public areas, Kennel said Ofo is talking to authorities about optimizing the number of bikes.

The 16 million bicycles provided by Ofo, Mobike and other Chinese operators have caused chaos on China’s pavements, with thousands dumped in already crowded public spaces. Some Chinese cities have banned further deployments.

On Monday, one of Ofo’s smaller competitors — Hong Kong startup Gobee.bike — launched a few dozen of its green dockless bikes in the Paris city center.

Founded by French entrepreneur Raphael Cohen, Gobee.bike plans to scale up to several thousand in coming months. Like Ofo’s bikes, Gobee’s are equipped with a GPS system and traceable with a phone app.

“I am very impressed with the innovation in bike schemes in China and I want to bring this to Europe, I believe there is a huge potential here,” said Cohen.

Unlike Velib, where the first half hour of cycling is free, Gobee charges 50 cents per half hour, but hopes that the ability to park the bikes anywhere will make it competitive.

Ofo and Gobee.bike are entering the Paris market as Velib operator JCDecaux is replaced by the Smoovengo consortium, which won a 600-700 million euro contract to run the Paris city bike sharing system from 2018 to 2032.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Catherine Evans

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