Bike Sharing- A Public Service or Public Nuisance

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Last year, bike sharing took off in Singapore with dozens of bike-share companies quickly flooding city streets with thousands of brightly colored two wheelers.

Singapore based oBike rolled out about 14,000 bikes and it was soon joined by the likes of Mobike and ofo, major industry players that have over 8 million bikes in over 200 countries. There are currently an estimated 100,000 shared bicycles here supplied by six operators, which have progressively entered the market since early last year.

However, the rapid growth in the initial stages has vastly outpaced demand and overwhelmed the Singapore towns, where infrastructure and regulations were not prepared to handle a sudden flood of thousands of shared bicycles. Soon after their introduction, the bikes started making headlines for the wrong reasons and the Town councils reported receiving complaints pertaining to errant riders  who would park bikes anywhere, or just abandon them, resulting in bicycles piling up and blocking already-crowded streets and pathways. As with the scene in Singapore citizen journalism, many bicycles circulated social media being found in canals or thrown from floors of Housing Board blocks.

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An oBike was found in a canal in Punggol on Wednesday (May 3)

bike 2Pictures of an ofo bike trashed and left in a drain were uploaded on Stomp on April 14, 2017 (right) PHOTO: STOMP

This problem is one that has been sighted in many countries especially in China where the government councils  impounded derelict bikes by the thousands moved quickly to cap growth and regulate the industry.  However with little or no effect, the lack of regulation led to vast piles of impounded, abandoned, and broken bicycles being a familiar sight in many big cities. As the companies who jumped in too big and too early began to fold, their huge surplus of bicycles can be found collecting dust in vast vacant lots. Despite this bike-sharing remains popular in China, however the initial bubble has burst.

bike 4 An aerial view of shared bicycles, collected by police after they blocked streets and sidewalks, abandoned in a field in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on June 28, 2017. #

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A worker rides a shared bicycle past a huge pile of unused shared bikes in a vacant lot in Xiamen, Fujian province, China, on December 13, 2017. #

In Singapore,new laws were proposed to tackle the indiscriminate parking of shared bikes and personal mobility devices (PMDs), operators expressed concerns over the compliance costs and the impact on business, while transport experts said that errant users are equally responsible and should be sufficiently penalised. Failure to comply with the new regulations can result in operators facing fines of up to S$100,000, reductions in fleet size, suspension, or even a revocation of their licence.

In Singapore,  there is low usage of bicycles after the initial bubble burst and in a study done by researchers from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, they found that each of these dockless shared bicycles were used for merely half an hour a day.  This coupled with stiff competition in which the bicycle sharing companies flooded the market with increasing number of bicycles has led to an oversupply with dwindling demand  and the market has hit its “saturation point” as addressed by Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min stating that: “The bicycle-sharing operators have exacerbated this problem as they grew their fleets too quickly in a bid to capture market share,”

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Rental bicycles parked indiscriminately at Seletar North Link.PHOTO: ST FILE

As of June 25th 2018, citing difficulties in meeting the new requirements placed by the Land Transport Authority(LTA), oBike will stop operations in Singapore.

“oBike is announcing its decision to cease operation in Singapore as a result of difficulties foreseen to be experienced to fulfil the new requirements and guidelines released by LTA towards dock-less bicycle sharing in Singapore,” the company said.”

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The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has set a Jul 7 deadline for bike-sharing firms to submit applications for a licence to operate in public places or cease operations. Those who submit them will have their applications evaluated and licence awarded by September.

The question is will the LTA’s new legislation be sufficient to address the problems associated with Bike Sharing and will the bicycles be considered a Public Good or a Public Nuisance?

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