Sunday afternoon in El Cajon I unsuccessfully tried to find an ofo dockless rental bike to help me get around town. I traveled to five locations where the ofo app listed an available bike, but in each location no bicycle was in sight.
The five bikes showed up on the app within a two square mile area in central El Cajon. First I traveled to Ballard St. at Decker St., where a bike was shown somewhere inside the El Cajon Mobile Home Park. I walked up to the exact location to find the ofo icon in the app hovering right in the middle of one of the mobile homes. No bicycle was in view outside.
During the prior week I had the same experience with ofo in Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and La Mesa. In East County people are stealing away dockless bikes and stashing them inside their homes and garages. Ofo seems to be the thief’s bike of choice.
While downtown San Diego and other central neighborhoods have a problem with too many bikes crowding public areas, East County has a problem with the public being deprived of the bikes that make their way out here. In response to an inquiry ofo stated, “NEVER park ofo bikes inside a residence.”
After my first failed attempt to get an ofo in El Cajon I tried to find a Limebike. There was only one available Limebike listed nearby and I was able to retrieve it. I haven’t personally found any cases of stolen Limebikes yet. I decided to use the Limebike to investigate whether any of the remaining four ofos in the area were actually available to the public.
My next stop was Madison Avenue, a block east of 2nd St., next to the Sahara Mobile Lodge. This time the app was showing the ofo icon hovering between the sidewalk and street, not inside a home. But still no bicycle was in sight. Then I noticed a sewer cap directly in front of me on the street. Several feet away in the other direction, on the other side of a chain link fence, I could see a stormwater drain running underground toward the street. If the bike could not be seen above ground where it was located, it must have been underground. Someone stashed an ofo bike inside an underground tunnel.
I continued to the next three stops. I went to an apartment building on Madison Avenue adjacent to Wells Park on its western boundary. I went to another apartment on Beech Street at the corner of Graves Avenue. My final stop was an apartment on Park Avenue a block west of Magnolia Avenue. In each case the ofo bike was stashed away inside the building. After five tries I gave up trying to see if there were any ofos in El Cajon that were not stolen.
In case you are wondering if the incidents I had with ofo were simply glitches on their app, at one apartment complex a resident who was outside confirmed to me that he did have an ofo bike inside his apartment.
Ofo also has a problem with damaged bikes. I had to make damage reports on the majority of ofo bikes I was able to retrieve the week before in other areas. Damage included missing brake cables, missing kickstands, bent handlebars, and warped wheels. One bike looked as if it were run over by a truck.
I couldn’t help but notice a news report just before publication of this story in which ofo states they are not aware of any reports of their San Diego bicycles having cut brake cables. I reported a missing brake cable to them several days ago.
My guess as to the reason ofo is having more problems than Limebike is because they offered use of their bikes for free during the month of March. It’s obvious more ofos have made their way to East County than Limebikes. It does not appear that any Mobikes have made their way east. I still haven’t seen Spin anywhere in San Diego. Perhaps they haven’t expanded beyond UCSD.
Even in downtown San Diego, there is a striking contrast between the misuse of ofo compared to Limebike. I saw several ofos commandeered by people strapping their belongings to them or using them as clothes hangers, tentpoles, etc.. I didn’t happen to see any commandeered Limebikes downtown.
It’s not only the relatively better odds of avoiding a wasted trip to find a Limebike in East County that makes it shine compared to ofo. Their electric assist bicycle is what steals the show. One of the Limebikes I rode was a Lime-E. The benefit of having that electric-powered boost is huge in a city full of hills.
To many, the arrival of dockless bikes are an unwelcome change. The City of Coronado recently stated they will begin impounding them. For homeless people who need a clothes hanger, carless people who need easy-to-reach readily available transportation, or people who just like that element of chaos, they are a welcome change.