Tel Aviv bicycle - Tomer Appelbaum
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai inspecting the Tel-O-Fun bicycle-renting system. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Daniel Bar-On
Blogger Hezi Gvili on one of the ubiquitous Tel-Ofan rental bikes. Photo by Daniel Bar-On

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai cycled last week to the Jaffa promenade on one of the bikes available through the city's bike rental program. There he held a press conference and proudly declared the Tel-Ofan bike rental project a huge success.

He said the number of bike users exceeds the forecast and that there were few incidences of vandalism. He feels this project has changed Tel Aviv. At the end of the festivities, he was dismissive of a local resident who tried to comment and perhaps also criticize the project.

There is little doubt Tel Aviv has taken to bike rental in a big way. The number of subscribers to the service is growing at an impressive rate and the green rental bikes have become a fixture on city streets.

There are already 13,000 yearly subscribers. Since the option of purchasing daily and weekly memberships became available at the beginning of the month, many have exercised it. But in the eight months since it started, it turns out the project has encountered numerous problems and malfunctions. Not all riders are satisfied, far from it.

Hezi Gvili is a regular and enthusiastic user of Tel-Ofan, but he also has a lot of criticism.

"I joined the service because my moped died. I am studying in Tel Aviv, live in Tel Aviv and work in Givatayim. So here is an opportunity, I thought; I'll get a subscription to Tel-Ofan and I'll have an excellent means of transportation," he said, noting that he uses a bike nearly every day, sometimes even several times a day.

Three months ago, he began a blog called Tel-no-fun to document the less successful aspects of the bike rental program. Every time he encounters a problem, malfunction or inefficiency with the system, he updates the blog. He also asks other internet users to report malfunctions to him.

He updates the blog several times a week and also posts photos and video clips on it. He posts reports on specific incidents, such as stations with no room to return a bike, stations without any bikes to rent or stations that have bikes but can't be rented because of a computer malfunction.

Gvili, 30, says he has nothing against the project; the opposite is true. "It's an amazing idea and an excellent transportation solution, but there are endless malfunctions," he says. "From this side, it seems to me as if someone is running the program poorly."

Sometimes Gvili looks to raise other, more general problems. For example, he recently posted an item about the long wait to get help from the service hotline and the fact that calls to it are for a fee. Reports of poorly maintained bikes that lack pedals, or gears that don't work, are usually forwarded directly to the call center.

"You rely on this as a means of transportation that you use in the morning to get to work. And then you get off at the terminal and the station does not release the bike and the bus left and the friend who could have driven you left and this all gets factored in."

Sharon Keren, the director general of the Tel Aviv Economic Development Authority, which oversees the project, admits that there is room for improvement.

"There are other technical problems that we are resolving gradually. In the end, the malfunctions are a small percentage," he says. "Currently we are doing 6,000 rentals per day. If there was a major malfunction here, we wouldn't be reaching these numbers."

According to him, "this is a complex system and therefore there will always be cases of empty or full stations. We are measuring the average wait at the call center and it is very low, less than two minutes, which is totally reasonable. All in all, most of the bikes are usable most of the time."