Bike-sharing companies face an uphill ride in US

Co-founders Toby Sun and Caen Contee of California-based bike sharing startup LimeBike show off their bikes at a recently-launched pilot program. (Reuters)
Updated 17 March 2018
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Bike-sharing companies face an uphill ride in US

SAN FRANCISCO: A bike-sharing craze that has swept China over the past two years is picking up speed in cities across the US, but with a different spin as tough local regulations rein in the roll-out of dockless bikes.

Chinese startups pioneered dockless bike sharing: Unlock a bike with your cellphone, ride it, park it, and relock it. But the downside has been bikes piled everywhere in many cities, clogging the sidewalks.

Many major US cities have pre-empted that problem with rules that sharply limit how many dockless-bike companies can operate and how many bikes they can offer in an effort to avoid problems with blocked sidewalks.

Mobike, one of the Chinese bike-sharing giants, has launched in just five US cities and is deliberately moving slowly to work with local communities, according to US General Manager Jason Wong. In Dallas, a city that bike-share companies say is lax on regulation, Mobike has “voluntarily capped” its dockless bike number at 3,000 to make sure the business can thrive in the long term.

Ofo, another Chinese dockless bike-sharing power, will not enter a city without the blessing of local officials, said Chris Taylor, head of the company’s North America business. It is now in 25 US cities, including Seattle, San Diego, and Washington, D.C.

“I think it’s definitely tougher than it is in China but I see that as a good thing,” said Toby Sun, co-founder and CEO of San Mateo, California-based LimeBike. The company put its first dockless bikes on the road in June and has so far raised $132 million from investors, including top Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

In New York City and San Francisco, dockless bike sharing is all but banned. Both cities have exclusive, multi-year deals with Motivate, which operates the Citi Bike and Ford GoBike services, which use fixed docking stations.

“There’s one city in the US that didn’t have any regulation and that’s Dallas, and quickly had more than 20,000 bikes that were not being used very often and so now they’re looking at what kind of regulation they want to adopt,” said Ryan Rzepecki, CEO of electric bike-sharing startup Jump Bikes.

“There’s going to be some regulation and that does impact the growth.”

Jared White, a spokesman for Dallas, said the city is getting ready to roll out permits and is considering imposing a fee on bike-sharing companies.

Meanwhile, cities with bike-share docking stations are considering what to do next. San Francisco has given a permit for electric bike-sharing to Jump Bikes, though it is limited to 250 bikes at the start.

New York City is considering dockless bikes for areas that are not serviced by the Citi Bike program. Nice Ride, a non-profit in Minneapolis that has been running a bike-sharing program for the past 8 years, has signed up Motivate to help run the docked bikes and roll out a dockless program to test the new concept.

Beyond the cautious city officials, bike-sharing companies face the challenge of getting Americans accustomed to driving to pedal instead — especially when the public transit options are far inferior to those in the biggest Chinese cities.

But the uphill ride is not worrying investors betting on so-called last mile solutions – bikes, electric bikes, and scooters. Just last week the electric scooter-sharing company Bird, which was founded in the fall of last year and has already had to pay fines to the city of Santa Monica for leaving scooters around town, raised $100 million in a series B funding.


Libya’s NOC declares force majeure on El Sharara oilfield

Updated 18 December 2018
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Libya’s NOC declares force majeure on El Sharara oilfield

  • El Sharara — a 315,000 barrels a day field was taken over on Dec. 8 by groups of tribesmen, armed protesters and state guards demanding salary payments
  • Some government officials favor offering quick cash to the occupiers to make them leave, but NOC officials have warned that would set a precedent

TRIPOLI: Libya’s state oil firm NOC has declared force majeure on operations at the country’s largest oilfield, El Sharara, a week after it announced a contractual waiver on exports from the field following its seizure by protesters.

The 315,000 barrels a day field, located in the south of the North African OPEC member country, was taken over on Dec. 8 by groups of tribesmen, armed protesters and state guards demanding salary payments and development funds.

Officials have been unable to persuade the groups, who have been camping on the field, to leave the vast, partly unsecured site amid disagreements how best to proceed, workers on the field said.

Some government officials favor offering quick cash to the occupiers to make them leave, but NOC officials have warned that would set a precedent and encourage more blockades, workers at the oilfield say.

NOC has described the occupiers as militia trying to get on the payroll of field guards, a recurring theme in Libya where many see seizing NOC facilities as an easy way to get heard by the weak state authorities.

Production will only restart after “alternative security arrangements are put in place,” NOC said in a statement.

Operations at the smaller El Feel oilfield continued as normal, engineers said.

“Production at Sharara was forcibly shut down by an armed group — Battalion 30 and its civilian support company — that claimed to be providing security at the field, but which threatened violence against NOC employees,” NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanallah said in the statement.

His comments came after the chief of staff of the Tripoli-based government, Abdulrahman Attweel, criticized some of Sanalla’s previous comments about the protesters as “irresponsible.”

“These people (guards) were there to protect the field without salaries and without any attention to them and their daily needs, not in terms of accommodation, supply, transportation and communication,” Attweel told Al-Ahrar channel late on Monday.

Their demands were legitimate, he said, echoing comments by some southern lawmakers and mayors demanding more jobs and development for the neglected region.
The blockade has been complicated by the presence of tribesmen, who have argued against quick cash payments saying they want funds to improve hospitals and other services, which might take time to deliver.

The shutdown of the El Sharara has not affected the El Feel oilfield, also located in the south. It continued to pump around 70,000 barrels a day, field engineers said.
Its exports were being routed via the Melittah oil and gas port, which like El Feel belongs to a joint venture NOC has with Italian energy company Eni, another engineer said.

A spokesman for NOC did not respond to a request for comment.
El Sharara crude is normally transported to the Zawiya port, also home to a refinery. NOC runs the field with Spain’s Repsol , France’s Total, Austria’s OMV and Norway’s Equinor, formerly known as Statoil.