Ofo – Good idea, bad experience

Ofo – Good idea, bad experience
23 Nov 17

As you probably well know by now I don’t drive, I basically walk everywhere but I am also partial to a bike ride from time to time but not enough to shell out for and maintain my own bike.

Now I’ve always like the idea of bike sharing services much like the ‘Boris Bikes’ in London which I have tried and enjoyed but we have nothing like that here in Norwich. So I did get excited to hear that Ofo a bike sharing service from China landed just down the road in Cambridge earlier this year so hoped that it would be rolled out to a wider number of cities in due course.

Then, a couple of weeks ago Ofo appeared at Avengers HQ to try and ‘peddle’ their wares to the student populous. I spoke to their reps and it seemed like a decent service and one that I wouldn’t mind trying out.

The Service

The service itself is pretty simple. They deploy a number of their bright yellow bikes around the city. These bikes lock themselves so you don’t have to lock them up to a bike rack but they do appreciate that you leave them in bike-friendly areas.

So to get started you download their app from the iOS or Android App Stores. When installed the app gives you a little intro on how to use it and then you will need to enter a debit or credit card to continue. Once you have done this you are presented with a map of your surrounding location and it shows you Ofo bikes in the immediate vicinity . Click on one of the bikes and it will tell you where it is, how far away it is and how to reach it.

Once you find the bike you simply scan the QR code on the rear mudguard and it unlocks and your journey can begin. Ofo charges 50p for each 30 minutes you use the bike, although your first 30 minute trip is free so you can at least try it. When you have reached your destination you can park up the bike and end the journey in the app. The bike locks itself and is released for the next person to go on their merry way.

All sounds simple right?

My Experience

So, I had a hospital appointment this morning and it was quite a distance from where I live and basically a 14 quid cab ride. So I thought, I know. I’ll grab an Ofo and make my way over there on bike. So I downloaded the app but there were none near me, but then I remembered they were advertising at the uni so there must be some there, because students, right? I could walk there and grab one but none there either so in the end I ended up forking out for the taxi.

When I had finished at the hospital I was a 2 hour walk from home but I thought, no worries I will walk some of the way and an Ofo bike would reveal itself on the way, and to my joy one appeared on my map. It was however half a kilometre in the wrong direction but I thought no worries when I get the bike it will make up for it and I will be home in good time.

When I got to where the app said the bike would be it was nowhere to be found, and I looked everywhere. After I had given up I found it, it was a quarter of a mile from where it was meant to be and even worse the wheels had been smashed in so I had walked an extra kilometre for no reason. Anyway I continued to head for home periodically checking the app until another bike revealed itself to me. This was 500m out of the way but I thought what the hell. This time I actually saw the bike 300 meters before where it was meant to be. But this time the lock had been smashed and someone had nicked the chain. So my trudge home continued.

Also, as a good samaritan I tweeted at Ofo with pics of the broken bikes and their locations so that they could retrieve them.

Obviously the vandalism of the bikes was not the fault of Ofo, just some mindless fools but something they will need to keep on top of.

I kept on walking minding my own business until I saw another chance and it was just ahead of me and based on where the app said the bike would be there was nowhere else it could be but despite all of my efforts I was unable to locate it. So in the end I got home without the aid of pedal power. But I did close all of my Apple Watch rings.

Improvements

As the title of this post says, this is a good idea but it really does need to be improved before it is something that people can rely on. I reached out to their social media people and they apologised for the issues and also said that they where looking to improve the GPS accuracy of the app.

The other thing that would be improved is that the app does not adapt your direction of travel as other maps apps do. So once you have found a bike and want directions you manually have to keep manipulating the map to keep you going in the right direction.

Now I am sure that these are teething troubles for a new service but do you think that these improvements that they say are coming down the line should have been fundamental from launch? If many people are having the same issues as me and all people see are beat up bikes all over the place it does not bode well.

Would love to hear what, if any the experiences you have had with Ofo.

Update from Ofo

We reached out to Ofo’s press team and they provided the following statement.

“We’re constantly improving our service with updates and upgrades, including both our app and bikes. We launched with 200 bikes on the ground in Norwich, and are working closely with the council to monitor usage, with a view to increasing the number in line with demand.

“As with any new service there will be teething troubles, but we have a large and growing team of dedicated marshals on the ground to deal with issues in a robust and swift manner.

“The response from the public in Norwich has been hugely encouraging, and we’re confident that the more people use the service, the better it will become.”

Author

Paul Wright

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