Bike-sharing service Gobee.bike has said it suspects that competitors or “powerful figures” may be behind recent cases of criminal damage against its rental bicycles.
Less than a week since the startup started operating, five bikes were found in water channels in Sha Tin three days in a row. Four rental bicycles were found in Shing Mun River on Saturday and Sunday, with another one recovered Monday from an open channel near Chevalier Garden in Ma On Shan.
Police have listed the cases as alleged criminal damage and are investigating the incidents.
“Maybe other rental bike businesses did it and wanted us to get them to repair the bikes – we don’t know. We have passed the case to police,” Gobee’s City Launcher and Manager Eunice Lee said on an RTHK programme on Monday.
Lee said Saturday that the company suspected that the perpetrators were involved in a protection racket and want to collect “protection fees” by making the bikes unsafe to use. She said the company was aware of other forms of damage to its rental bikes, such as parts going missing.
The company also said it recently received anonymous emails and suspects “powerful figures” may be behind the vandalisation, Apple Daily reported.
But on Monday afternoon, Gobee’s public relations firm told HKFP: “We won’t be drawn into any speculation or rumours. Please let the police do their job.”
Following reports of rental bikes being damaged, GoBee’s founder and CEO Raphael Cohen told HK01 that he was “heartbroken” about the incidents. Cohen, who said he had been living in the city for nearly six years, said: “I just don’t feel safe in the city anymore.”
He added that tourists might consider Hong Kong to be a “dangerous” city and opt to visit Japan or South Korea instead. But Cohen said he was undeterred by the incidents and would continue running the startup.
On Monday, Lee said the incidents do not mean that all Hongkongers lack a sense of responsibility towards the rental bikes.
“The bikes [found in the rivers] only account for a small portion of our fleet of 400 bikes,” she said. “Most people are supportive of our idea, and they show their support by using our services.”
Gobee’s public relations firm told HKFP that the company launched the app in good faith. “We are obviously disappointed with the few people that have thrown the bikes in the river,” it said, “but we believe that the majority of Hong Kongers are respectful and that they will embrace this concept because of its many benefits.”
Gobee has seen several hiccups since entering service last Thursday. An app programmer said there was a security loophole in the Gobee app, with users’ credit card information being sent to Gobee’s server without encryption.
The company later said it deleted the credit card details of around 450 users after discovering the problems. Lee said Monday that Gobee has updated the app and did not find any data leakage.
Some users also complained that they were charged HK$399 for a deposit on the app even though they did not intend to make the payment. Cohen said it received around 300 to 400 complaints in the past few days, most of which concerned technical issues. He said all of the complaints were resolved in a short period of time.
The company plans to expand its fleet by 600 bikes this week. It will continue increasing the number of bikes available, focusing mainly in the New Territories.
Gobee charges users HK$5 per half hour. Other rental bike services in the district cost around HK$40-100 a day.