What to do with initiatives for which rules not yet exist?
Recently a couple of thousands of oBikes invaded the city. What should Rotterdam do with those yellow-grey creatures? And, moreover, what should be done about the complaints that came along with them? Stefan Philipsen, who teaches at Erasmus School of Law, talks about new initiatives like oBike that do not have any legal precedent yet.
What is actually the problem?
‘There seem to be some complaints regarding oBikes. People don’t only think there are ugly, but are also bothered by the fact they are everywhere. Rotterdam’s bicycle parking space is limited enough as it is, and now there is even less space left. Sometimes the complaints express more a feeling of discontent: in one night the neighbourhood has been taken over by 500 yellow bikes. That creates a nuisance.’
Is there something that can be done?
‘We have rules that are designed to protect the public interest. oBikes doesn’t comply with those existing rules. In Rotterdam one cannot park a bike at one spot for a longer period than four weeks. Also one is not allowed to park a bike against someone’s house, nor inconveniently on the street. When the municipality would apply these rules to oBikes, they would be no more.’
Does that solve the problem?
‘No, since there are arguments as well that go in favour of oBikes. The initiative offers a way of making efficient use of bikes. Also tourists, who are increasingly coming to Rotterdam, benefit from it. And last but not least, there is the environment to think about: we have to get people out of their cars. Moreover, this is not just about oBikes. The same issues come up regarding other initiatives that sprouted out of the sharing economy that is developing. Whether it is about sharing your house, drill or car: the question is what we need to do to find the right balance.’
How can the issue be solved legally?
‘Law is about the reconciliation of interests, sometimes opposing interests. It’s clear there has to be space for initiatives like oBikes to be developed, but we have to look for a proper form. In Barcelona a similar thing like oBikes is only accessible for inhabitants of the city. That could be a possibility to deal with things. We can also look for technological solutions. Maybe the app can tell users when they are parking their bike in the wrong spot.’
It must be an interesting time to be a lawyer…
‘Interesting, as well as complex. Sometimes one has to know a lot about technology to understand what the possibilities are to deal with these new initiatives. What can a company like oBike do itself? Can they for example track the bike? It's not easy to keep oneself up-to-date and well informed. Lawyers have to join hands with people with specific technological knowledge.’