The Tel Aviv bike-rental system Tel-Ofan is expanding into other cities, but the number of users is at its lowest level since the project was launched.
The number of daily rentals plummeted by 33.5% last year, from an average of 7,572 rentals a day in 2014 to 5,033 in 2015. Over the last two years the number of subscribers has dropped by 27.9%. The number of daily subscribers dropped by 23.8% last year, with the number of weekly subscribers falling by 21.6%.
The bike rental system was launched by the Tel Aviv municipality in May 2011, with an initial investment of 40 million shekels ($10 million).
Mayor Ron Huldai considers it a flagship project and city hall invests millions of shekels a year in its operation. The Tel Aviv-Yafo Economic Development Authority supervises the project which is managed by a private franchisee. Six months ago the project expanded into neighboring Givatayim, with 10 stations set up there. Last month 10 stations started operating in Ramat Gan as well.
The system currently includes 206 stations and 2,060 bicycles. Bat Yam is expected to join the project soon, with a commitment to set up 15 stations within its jurisdiction. Ramat Hasharon, Herzliya, Holon and Petah Tikva have also expressed interest in joining the venture.
However, the negative data stand out on the backdrop of this growing interest and expanding scale.
Frequent users told Haaretz that numerous defects in the system are the main reason for the loss of clients. The increased usage of electric bicycles, not available in the Tel-Ofan project, is also a factor. “Increasing numbers of people are giving up,” says Hezi Gvili, who started a blog when the project was launched, documenting its problems and defects. “When you can’t rely on it as a means of transportation early in the morning you gradually give in to despair,” he says.
Former city council member Sharon Malki, who now manages projects for the Ministry of Transportation, has accompanied the project since its inception. She sees some improvement in the quality of service but concedes that the project is far from perfect, with an image problem that repels potential customers.
“The initial problems gave it an aura of unreliability. Despite the improved level of service, many people who have alternate options such as buses, walking, taxis or their cars don’t take these bikes into account anymore.”
“I use it at least once a week” says Malki. “Today I changed bikes three times. The third time, when I wanted to place it at the station I just happened to get the last empty space. If I were 10 minutes late I would have had to find another station and walk back. That can be frustrating. There are problems with these bikes. It’s not perfect but it’s a good service. You won’t get an amazing riding experience this way. There are many bashed up bikes, but for people like me it’s a much more convenient way of being mobile.”
Ido Shamir, director of the Tel Aviv-Yafo Economic Development Authority, doesn’t deny these problems and emphasizes that city hall is making efforts to solve them and bring back users who have left.
“We had some problems with user-unfriendly locks last year. We’re trying to change these together with the franchisee,” he said. “We hope an arrangement can be made and that it’s solved this year. When the locks are fixed we’ll try to recover the annual subscribers.”