oBike Falls Afoul of Portugal’s Bureaucracy and Unscrupulous Users

oBike arrived in Lisbon last month with 350 bikes and looked set to be the go-to bike sharing service in the city. However, as of Tuesday, their once proud fleet has begun to be swept from the streets.

The Singapore startup oBike arrived in Lisbon last month with 350 bikes and looked set to be the go-to bike sharing service in the city. However, as of yesterday, their once-proud fleet is getting swept from the streets.

lecreusois / Pixabay

It comes after the company was given a deadline of Monday, March 5 to remove the bikes, as oBike supposedly failed to apply for any municipal licences. Anyone who has tried to navigate Portugal’s bureaucracy can sympathize, but this rather blatant oversight means what could have been a great addition to Lisbon has fallen flat on its face.

The concept of oBike is simple. You use their app to scan the QR code on a nearby bike to unlock it, then pay 50 cents every 30 minutes. When you are done you simply leave the bike out of the way of traffic for the next person.

It is this last step that people seem to be having some serious difficulties with. Miguel Gaspar, the “Vereador da Mobilidade” (Lisbon’s alderman of mobility), told Público that while oBike was welcomed in the city, the bikes have been found in the centre of squares and on top of park benches. With Lisbon’s narrow sidewalks and winding alleys, it is easy to see how congestion quickly became a serious issue. On top of this, the mislaid bikes have drawn complaints for creating an eyesore on Lisbon’s beautiful streets.

oBike arrived as the first firm to compete with the local bike-sharing program Gira bikes, which is run by the Portuguese parking and mobility firm EMEL, and caused much excitement with its strategic placement by the flat river area. Assaf Amit, who is responsible for bringing oBike to Lisbon, said in an interview with Dinheiro Vivo last month that if the run of 350 bikes were profitable, oBike could expand to include electric bikes. The test phase before the introduction of electric bikes was set to last three to six months — but seems to have tripped at its first hurdle.

oBike works on a credit-based system for users’ behavior, with fewer good-behavior points leading to higher prices. Amit hoped this would help “encourage positive driving and responsible behavior, and to rebuke inappropriate behavior.” Evidently, people haven’t taken this to heart.

So back to Gira we go until oBike sorts out its paperwork, or another cycling startup steps up to the challenge of transport in Lisbon.

In the meantime, see your other options for getting on a bicycle at Lisbon by Bike: Routes, Rentals, and Rules.

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