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End of the road for bike-share pioneer Gobee in France

Latest update : 26/02/2018

© Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt, AFP | This photo taken on November 18, 2017 in Paris shows a Gobee bike, a free service rental bicycle.

Article text by FRANCE 24

People wanting to get on their bikes in France have one fewer option for doing so after the Gobee.bike hire service said Saturday it was closing following a welter of thefts and vandalism.

“It is with great sadness that we are officially announcing to our community the termination of Gobee.bike service in France on 24 February 2018,” the Hong Kong-headquartered service said.

“Over the months of December and January, the mass destruction of our fleet has become the new entertainment of underaged individuals,” said Gobee.bike, which had rolled out 2,000 two-wheelers in Paris alone and had some 150,000 users across France.

The company said that “more than a thousand bikes” had been stolen and almost 3,400 damaged nationwide, with almost 300 complaints filed to police and 6,500 repairs needed.

Gobee.bike had already thrown in the towel in the northern cities of Lille and Reims as well as Belgian capital Brussels for the same reason.

The bright green bicycles were located via a smartphone application and hired for 50 cents ($0.6) an hour by swiping a barcode to open the safety lock.

The user, who paid a 15 euro deposit, could then leave the bike anywhere, unlocked.

“It was sad and disappointing to realise that a few individuals could ruin such a beautiful and promising project. We had to come to the conclusion that it could not be viable and there was no other choice for us than shutting down, nationwide,” Gobee.bike said.

Gobee.bike’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 Vélib 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.

Over the course of the past decade, the sturdy grey Vélib bikes became a familiar sight in the French capital, popular with tourists and commuters alike.

But a redesign and partial switchover to electric versions, plus the change of management from French giant JCDecaux to Franco-Spanish upstart Smovengo has proved messy.

After weeks of disruption, just 64 docking stations were operational by mid-January out of 1,460 supposed to be up and running by April. Many riders complained the mobile app regularly crashed while calls to customer service went unanswered.

Smovengo blamed the delays on electrical problems and a legal dispute with JCDecaux.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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