Right now, in cities across Australia, a company called oBike is demonstrating the thin line between bicycles and trash. Bicycles, it seems, are things that stand upright. Everything else is trash.
To be fair though, I don’t think this what the proprietors of oBike had in mind when they launched in Australia. Over in Singapore, where the company started, bike sharing seems to work. The people and urban layouts are different, and bikes tend to get ridden to places where other people will ride them back.
But not here.
In Australia, we have a 200-year-old culture of hard rubbish collection. Generation after generation has grown up understanding that things found on nature strips are purely for stealing and breaking. And no goddam foreign company will ever tell us otherwise.
But the owners of oBike likely don't know this. And it probably doesn't make any sense to them why they're haemorrhaging money and having to fish their bikes out of the Yarra River day after day. So I figured I’d help them to understand why people are angry. And to do that, I'd dump a bunch of oBikes on the company director's front lawn.
Getting the director’s home address was surprisingly easy. I just got their company Australian Company Number (ACN) from their website.
And used that to download their Current Company Extract, which told me where the ACN was registered. In this case it was the two oBike directors’ homes: one in China and one in Chadstone. And I don’t know why Hongchang Lu was living in Chadstone, or why anyone lives in Chadstone, but it was conveniently close.
So I got a van and rounded up some oBikes.
This is our intern Sophie. She wasn’t sure why we were doing this but she helped anyway.
As we were doing this I got thinking about hate, and how people hate oBikes. Because it’s not like cars cultivate beautiful environments either. Actually, if you’ve been to Los Angeles, you’ll know that cars cultivate basically the worst kind of urban environment possible in this physical universe—whereas cities built around bikes, like Amsterdam, get famous just because they look good. So it’s weird that everyone loves cars but hates oBikes.
But then I guess no one ever parks their car upside down in a playground, which is pretty much the only way you ever find oBikes.
Anyway, we drove to Chadstone and starting unloading oBikes.
Pretty soon the company director's nature strip was full, so we moved to their front yard and porch.
You’d be surprised how awkward this was.
And then this woman came out and wanted to know what we were doing. We explained that Melbourne was full of oBikes and we were taking them home, but she seemed confused. “The oBike guy no longer lives here,” she said. “This is the wrong address.”
This was a real setback and naturally we apologised and removed the oBikes from her porch.
Later, back at the office, I called the oBike hotline and asked if their registration details were correct and they said they were. Then I asked if the director's address had changed and they said it hadn’t.
Then I called the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and asked what happens if an ACN is registered to an incorrect address. “You get fined $323 a month,” they told me.
So I don’t know what’s going on. Either oBike is partially run from an address in Chadstone by people who pretend they don't work for oBike—or their registration address is incorrect and they’re in a very mild amount of trouble.
Either way, they’re making a mess.