Rental shops say bike share company unfairly benefits from city backing
Bicycle rental businesses on the South Island are taking aim at a new bike share company they say has been given an unfair advantage in the marketplace.
China-based company U-bicycle first rolled out its fleet of 150 lime green bikes in Victoria last fall.
The bikes, which cost $1 for a 30-minute ride, unlock with a smartphone app and can be picked up and parked on any city street within U-bicycle's boundary area.
With the fall launch considered a success, the company then expanded the fleet to 500 bikes and into several additional municipalities including Saanich and Esquimalt.
"We've been seeing a real pick-up in the summer, above our expectations," said U-bicycle spokesman Raviv Litman.
But now, some bike rental some businesses say the company is pedalling through city loopholes.
Several shops across the region argue the new competition in town is bending the rules because it's skirting costs associated with brick-and-mortar businesses.
"It's that they're using public space for private advantage," said Charles Horn, owner of Pedaler Cycling Tours. "They don't have to rent buildings, they don't have to pay rent, they don't have to pay property taxes, they get to use city property and government property to park their bikes on and I don't get to do that."
One local bike shop says it has to abide by city bylaws restricting where it can place its sandwich board, while U-bicycles are littered all over sidewalks and city streets.
"I pay a fee in order to have that sandwich board on the sidewalk, or I can't have my vehicles left anywhere in the city," said Ander Gat of Cycle BC Rentals. "And this company, this dockless bike share company, is able to essentially put their bikes anywhere and leave them anywhere."
Similar arguments have been raised against food trucks and ride-sharing businesses, but U-bicycle says it is targeting a completely different type of commuter with its service.
"What people are signing onto is the ability to use bikes at their convenience," said Litman. "If we were to have fixed locations, or we weren't able to go to certain places, that would really limit this type of bike share altogether."
City of Victoria staff say the company is a new business model that is following all rules to operate in the city.
"City staff are monitoring the dockless bike share service to ensure that it's operating effectively in the city," it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, business owners like Horn say they welcome the competition – they just want it to be fair.
Are Victoria's U-Bikes getting an unfair advantage? Meet the bike rental shops that say they're getting a raw deal, tonight at 5 & 6. pic.twitter.com/mjmo8yg9j4— CTV News VI (@CTVNewsVI) June 27, 2018