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In Camden, bike sharing rolls out of town early

China-based bike sharing company ofo launched in Camden just two months ago and they're already pulling out, cutting short a six-month commitment.

New OFO rental bikes are shown at Roosevelt the Plaza Park in N. 5th Street Camden, N.J. Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Camden's new bike-share program debuts Tuesday with 200 bicycles available for riders to take for a spin for as little as $1 an hour. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
New OFO rental bikes are shown at Roosevelt the Plaza Park in N. 5th Street Camden, N.J. Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Camden's new bike-share program debuts Tuesday with 200 bicycles available for riders to take for a spin for as little as $1 an hour. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff PhotographerRead moreJOSE F. MORENO

Folks won't be seeing those bright yellow bikes around Camden anymore.

The Chinese dockless bike-sharing company ofo  ceased operations in Camden on Friday, just two months after the much-heralded start of what was meant to be a six-month pilot program.

Ofo's abrupt departure from the city is part of a broader pullout  that will include mass layoffs of most of its U.S. employees and a shutdown of operations in all but a few large cities, according to an ofo employee familiar with the matter.

"Ofo has made a strategic decision to focus on priority markets internationally," Hilary Shi, spokesperson for ofo's Beijing headquarters, said in an email Friday. "Our rapid expansion in the past year gave us the opportunity to better understand the global business."

Shi declined to explain what challenges ofo confronted in the U.S. market.

"Our focus now is on our priority markets and moving toward profitability," she said. "We are still communicating with our local markets about the plans moving forward."

Ofo has not clarified in which cities it will remain. But Kris Kolluri of the Cooper's Ferry Partnership, which oversees development in Camden and helped introduce the bike-sharing program, said an ofo representative told him Thursday that the company was pulling out of Camden.

"We're still shocked," he said Friday. "The decision was obviously not made yesterday, so our disappointment is that no one shared with us the challenges ofo faced in Camden."

Ofo riders used the company's smartphone app to locate GPS-enabled bikes, then would scan a QR code on the rear wheel to unlock it. The rate to ride was $1 an hour, and the bikes could be parked anywhere.

>>READ MOREIs Camden ready for bike sharing? Residents will find out this May

"There are always challenges introducing a new program and new technology, especially in Camden," Kolluri said. "But anecdotally, the program was received very well."

Ofo's launch included a feasibility study funded by the William Penn Foundation, and conducted by the Cooper's Ferry Partnership in conjunction with Rutgers University's Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, to assess the challenges and benefits of bike sharing in Camden, Kolluri said.

"This was supposed to be a six-month study, so ideally we would have much more data," he said. "Now we'll have to look at whatever data we have and hopefully draw some conclusions to determine if, in the future, this product is right for Camden."

Kolluri added that several bike-sharing companies have contacted Camden to discuss the future, but he declined to identify them.

Camden city spokesperson Vincent Basara also expressed disappointment with ofo's decision as well as the handling of the situation on Friday.

"We weren't given any notice," he said. "This is a big pullout across the country, and something must be going on internally in the company."

Basara said residents were excited about the program.

"It was outside the box for Camden. It was new, fresh, and creative thinking," he said. "It helped to get people moving and exercising."

"It's unfortunate the way ofo handled this."

Dan Rhoton, executive director of Hopeworks Camden, a nonprofit that helps young Camden residents pursue education and find employment, said kids at Hopeworks benefited significantly from ofo's services.

"We work with kids who are living in extreme poverty and some are homeless," he said. "The investment was low enough for them to take advantage of the program."

"That level of freedom and mobility was going to be transformative for Camden."

Founded in 2014, ofo describes itself on its website as "the world's first and largest station-free bike sharing platform." The company says it has more than 10 million bikes and over 200 million users in more than 20 countries.

Multiple news agencies reported that ofo has also pulled out of India, Israel, Australia, and Germany this month, largely due to competition in China from Mobike.

"As we continue to bring bikeshare to communities across the globe, ofo has begun to reevaluate markets that present obstacles to new, green transit solutions," said Andrew Daley, ofo's head of North American operations, in a statement.

Earlier this year, ofo raised $866 million in a funding round led by Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce company. As of June, ofo had plans to introduce "e-bikes" and scooters to the U.S. market, Forbes reported.

Daley added that ofo will "prioritize growth in viable markets."