China’s largest bike-share company, Ofo, is rolling into Washington.
Ofo’s distinctive yellow bikes, more than 10 million of which are available across China and 12 other countries, will be in D.C. starting Tuesday.
The company will join four others that recently started operating in the city as part of a six-month pilot to determine the potential success of the dockless bikeshare model.
Among the competitors: Ofo’s major rival Mobike, another top bikeshare system in Asia. U.S.-based Spin, LimeBike and Jump also have bicycles on the ground.
Ofo officials say they plan to have 400 bicycles here by the end of next week, which is the maximum allowed by the city — at least for now. That will bring the number of dockless bicycles to nearly 2,000.
Just like the other dockless services, Ofo bikes can be tracked and unlocked through the company’s smartphone app. Riders pay $1 per hour.
“We are in bright yellow and we are easy to be found,” said Grace Lin, the head of North American operations.
Lin said the company will work to make the bicycles available all across the city, but said the 400 limit restricts the company’s ability to offer the convenient service. To make the bikes more widely available across all wards, the city would need to start with at least 10,000 bicycles, she said.
“A bicycle in a city can be used more than 10 times. With 400 is hard to reach that number,” Lin said.
“We understand that we need to take a gradual approach to let people get to know dockless bikeshare,” she said. “We totally understand the consideration from the (authorities) to start small. I have to say for a city like D.C., this number is indeed just a demonstration.”
Lin said the company’s local operations team will ensure bikes remain are well-maintained and inside the coverage area. She said the Ofo app offers suggested parking places and instructs users how to park the bicycle in the right place.
And Lin said the people on the ground, as many as 10 in D.C., will remove bikes from unwanted and prohibited places and to be moving the bicycles where demand is highest.
Ofo began the station-less bike-share concept as a student project at Peking University in Beijing in 2014. Now the company, valued at $3 billion, operates in 180 cities and 13 countries.
The company’s U.S. headquarters are in San Francisco. In August, it delivered 1,000 bicycles to Seattle. Last month it rolled out in the Boston area, and D.C. is its third U.S. market, with plans to expand nationally.
This post was updated to reflect the bikes will roll out on Tuesday instead of Monday. Rides cost $1 per hour.