Earlier this afternoon, an email was sent out to notify all Pomona College students that the popular ofo bike-sharing scheme will no longer be implemented, effective next week. The reason for this cancellation was attributed to ofo’s business crisis; students have also expressed disapproval of a “capitalistic program” like Ofo.
According to Robert Robinson, Associate Vice President of Facilities and Campus Service, “This type of bike-sharing has taken off nationally in recent years but some companies that initially entered the marketplace are now facing heavy competition and strains on their business models, leading some to pull back. In that vein, ofo has informed us that they will be no longer be offering their bike-sharing service here in Claremont effective next week.”
Many Claremont students expressed their disgust that ofo is a private, for-profit company, and encouraged others to avoid using ofo bikes and rather apply to get a bike through Green Bike Program, a college-funded organization that rents out a limited amount of bikes for free to Pomona students. When a Pomona dean posted about the ofo program in Facebook groups for Pomona’s students, student commenters criticized ofo.
“Don’t support capitalistic programs that only serve to produce more waste, rather than reducing it! “[Gotta] love these neoliberal ways of thinking,” one student wrote.
An opinion article in The Student Life—a student newspaper funded by the student body governments of the Claremont Colleges—called ofo representative of “the increasing trust Claremont [the college consortium Pomona is a part of] is putting in for-profit companies to solve problems we could fix ourselves.”
Last February, Pomona College partnered with ofo, a bike sharing company, to provide bikes for Pomona students to rent and use. Pomona’s motive for this was its SAVE program, a project dedicated to improving sustainability at the College and achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
Ofo operates in many parts of Europe, North America and Asia, including at many US colleges, but recently announced a massive reduction in operations, focusing on only “a handful of US cities”.The company charged students only one dollar per hour for the use of these bikes, and hires a large staff team to move and maintain the bikes; the company subsequently reported substantial losses. In addition, one student told the Independent on the condition of anonymity that he had “seen many unlocked bikes on campus, that other students were free to take.” This practice resulted that ofo made no revenue off these free returns, as ofo bikes must be locked after each ride; users would not need to pay to ride bikes that remain unlocked after previous use.
Ofo launched in February as a free trial program, but switched to its paid model this semester.
However, Robinson also expressed his hope for the future of bike sharing at the college: “
Bike-sharing is one of many steps our community has taken to fulfill our commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2030, as detailed in our Sustainable Action Visible Effects (SAVE) strategic plan. We continue to move forward on this larger goal, and we will keep the community updated on progress as we pursue a new partnership to replace ofo.”