Cycle share company Ofo is planning to upgrade the security on its bikes after high levels of theft and vandalism in Hackney.
The increase comes as police officers are finding “two or three” stolen or vandalised Ofo bikes a day in the borough, and caretakers on the Pembury Estate in Hackney Central told officers they had found 22 damaged and stolen Ofo bikes over several days in November.
Currently the bikes have tracking devices, front and back lights and clearly displayed telephone number so users can report bikes that have been damaged.
PCSO Stuart Swan, a member of the Metropolitan Police’s safer neighbourhood team in Hackney Central said: “The youngsters are just breaking them, and riding them and everything else.
“It’s an issue, you find them all over the place. You can see two or three a day smashed up and everything. They smash the card readers off and then they just cycle them around.”
— Jack Stilgoe (@Jackstilgoe) November 11, 2017
Unlike London’s Santander cycles, Ofo bikes are dockless—users unlock the bikes using a smartphone app, and can leave them wherever they like within the borough for the next cyclist to use. The bikes are fitted with a GPS tracker so cyclists can find the nearest bike.
PC Alexander Cochrane-Dyet, of the Met’s London Fields safer neighbourhood team said: “It’s quite a cool scheme, the fact that you can cycle a bike somewhere and leave it at the side of the street, but it does make it very easy to steal.”
Officers also raised doubts over the effectiveness of the tracking system. PCSO Swan said: “They [Ofo] ring up, they’re supposed to be tracked bikes, but the first thing they ask is ‘where are they’.”
The cycle scheme, which has recently expanded into Islington and the City of London said that they would be upgrading security and recruiting more staff to deal with the vandalism.
— Gary Cook (@HackneyTools) December 5, 2017
Joseph Seal-Driver, Ofo’s General Manager for the UK and Ireland, said: “When this [misuse] occurs our dedicated team of marshals respond swiftly. Damaged bikes are taken to bike shops for repair and missing bikes are tracked down using the built-in GPS trackers and recovered.
“We’re working closely with the council to ensure our service is as robust as possible. We have 16 Ofo marshals on the ground in Hackney and are actively recruiting more. We will also be upgrading the security on our bikes in coming days to minimise vandalism.”
Hackney Council currently has a “memorandum of understanding” for a one year trial with the firm, during which 90% of their bikes must be serviceable, and there are agreed timeframes for reported damaged bikes to be removed.
Hoxton East and Shoreditch Cllr Feryal Demirci, said: “We are aware that there has been some antisocial behaviour and we are working closely with Ofo to prevent this from taking place.
“We chose to partner with Ofo as they have shown they are a responsible provider and are working hard to address issues raised. We are pleased that Ofo bikes are serving the community and we hope that the actions of a few selfish vandals doesn’t [sic] ruin the scheme for everyone.”