The government has sharpened oversight of its Central Harbourfront bike rental scheme after most of the rental bikes randomly tested in December were found with serious mechanical problems.
In response to findings of a Transit Jam survey on rental bicycle safety, Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) confirmed there were problems with “defective bikes” and said it was stepping up supervision of contractor Atkins.
“We have indeed identified a number of bicycles requiring maintenance and repair over the past few months,” said a spokeswoman for CEDD which is running the one-year pilot of free rental bikes along the Central Harbourfront.
Eight adult rental bikes randomly tested (out of a total fleet of 15 adult bikes) had either an ineffective front brake or rear brake, while three of the bikes had broken mudguards rubbing against the rear wheel. Aside from the more serious defects, the bikes in general were in poor condition, with rusting components, structures held together by wire or cable-ties and many with broken Christmas decorations still hanging from seats.
Contractor Atkins, paid an undisclosed sum by CEDD to run the scheme, obtains the bikes from LocoBike, a bike share company notorious for the haphazard quality of its dockless rental bikes.
But Atkins has never revealed its relationship with LocoBike, the contract value and whether it purchases retired dockless bikes or leases working bikes from the firm. For the harbourfront scheme, LocoBike stickers have been replaced with the rental scheme “Ding Ding” branding and some QR codes on the automatic locks greyed out.
CEDD said it has clamped down on the poor maintenance and will require Atkins to submit a repair log “from time to time” for checking.
“According to our latest record, the repairing works on defective bicycles were substantially completed on 2 January 2023,” said the spokeswoman.
According to CEDD, the operator is responsible for daily maintenance and morning check of all bicycles, as well as “general condition check before renting out to customers and minor repair works where necessary”. But the operator in charge of renting out bikes at the main bike station at Central said he had no personal knowledge of bike maintenance, and simply shrugged when defects such as ineffective brakes were pointed out.
“We have reminded the operator to carry out more frequent checks on the bicycles and step up the training to relevant staff,” said CEDD.
The government says the bike rental trial has already proved popular with harbourfront visitors, with around 75 rentals per day in December and, to date, no reported incident, injury or collision on the shared path.
At an event last November to celebrate the successful opening of the path, Harbourfront Commission chairman Vincent Ng said the government now plans to extend the “unbroken” shared path from 2km currently to around 30km by 2025.
He said if the concept was popular with users it could help influence more positive policies towards bicycles in other departments.