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A bike-sharing station turns up right outside an environmentalist's front door. What could go wrong?

I’d like to call myself an environmentalist, but let’s get real. I’m an environmentalist when it’s easy, or at least relatively easy, to help save the environment by small actions every day.

Case in point, I learned to ride a bike when I was 27 years old. Yes, a bit late. Some might even say VERY late. And, I can handle that criticism. But, what matters here is that I learned in plenty of time to make aliyah and live in a city that installed a bike-sharing system a little over a year ago – to my environmental glee.

Even more, a bike station was placed a mere 20 meters from my front door. Even though I had purchased my own bike less than 6 months prior – I bought a subscription on principle. I just LIKED being able to say I belonged. Soon after, I retired my bike and gave it to a friend, and became a religious user of Tel-O-Fun.

What is religious? Well, if an observant Jew prays 3 times daily, or an observant Muslim 5 times daily, then I fall somewhere between the two (probably in many ways, but that is for another blog entry.) The point is that if I have enough time, and the distance is less than a 20-minute ride away, I ALWAYS think of Tel-O-Fun first. I haven’t even bothered learning the bus routes. And I have used the existence of the bike system to justify not purchasing a car – and renting cars only when necessary.

I like walking up to a station, seeing those shiny (well, at one time they were) bikes standing in line, just waiting for a fair-weather environmentalist like me to walk up, swipe my electronic key past the screen, punch in my 4-digit code and pedal off into the Tel Aviv sunset – or humidity.

Well, I would, if…


In an assessment of this hypothetically beautiful, environmentally-friendly, transportation utopia – I wouldn’t even give Tel-O-Fun an “F” on a report card, because one might construe my assessment as meaning “Fair.” In the past 2 weeks, I have noted precisely 2 times (out of the multiple times each day) that the system has worked flawlessly. In each of the other attempts either the system hasn’t worked, bikes located in the station do not appear on the screen – and in today’s beautiful (read: utterly obnoxious) scenario 6 bikes parked in the station did not appear in the system, and the one that did appear (as I gleefully pressed number 18) had a tire so flat that it possessed the virility of a used condom.  And this is representative of my entire experience over the past year.

Upon jumping into my 3rd cab of the week, I called the number provided for their Customer Support (which at this point I have on speed dial and currently figures as the #1 MOST dialed number in my phone), and after waiting approximately 2 minutes, spoke to an agent who neither apologized for my inconvenience, but also informed me that the system generally works, and that there was nothing they could/would do to compensate me – aside from refunding the pro-rated amount of my yearly subscription.

Further, the agent indicated to me that I should call them EVERY TIME I have a problem with one of their stations and remain on hold until I speak with an agent so that they can help me. This might seem like a fair request, except that I don’t even speak to my own mother as often as I need to speak to a Tel-O-Fun bike representative (read- EVERY DAY). Yes, mom, I know that makes me a bad daughter.

But, seriously, do I now work FOR Tel-O-Fun? Are they planning on compensating me for my time as one of their representatives that goes around “checking” on their stations? If so, I might be interested in knowing their compensation structure. It might be worth my time, as I estimate I have spent a collective 40 hours searching for working stations, holding or speaking to their call center.

It is rare that anything gets me so fired up as to write an at-large blog about Israeli customer support (I prefer to suffer in the company of close friends), but I’m at my wit’s end. If a city decides to implement a bike-share system to encourage its citizens to either be more environmentally friendly OR assist with the traffic congestion, it might be helpful for them to consider providing a system that works more than 30% of the time. And if they can’t provide that, then they should at the very least train their support to acknowledge the problem, and not require their customers to do their work for them.

If anyone has any fabulous suggestions to make to the Tel Aviv Municipality or to our esteemed Mayor Ron Huldai, I would suggest you post them HERE and HERE.

As for me, I’m going back to recycling my plastic bottles – at least a metal cage can’t be out of order.





About the Author
Marni Mandell CEO & Co-Founder of CareHood, public speaking coach and mentor to startups and speaker herself. She made aliyah in 2010, and has spent 20 years working in the Jewish community and hi-tech.