Traffic and its resultant air pollution is a major problem throughout much of Southeast Asia. Finding the best routes and practices for getting to work, school, and otherworldly affairs requires a fair amount of strategising. Bicycles seem like the perfect solution. Yet, have startups gone far enough with their long-range planning and self-regulating to make this a reality? People are creatures of habit and it can be a mental effort to shift one’s routine. And if that routine is disrupted, then people are left with a dilemma to solve. Now, Singaporeans are scrambling for answers to their transportation woes, considering the departure of Obike, Gbikes and ShareBikeSG.
Read what Obike Co-Founder and CMO shared about their journey in happier times
No Obike, so now what?
Obike disappeared from the market in Singapore, citing regulations as the culprit, leaving thousands of disgruntled customers rightfully upset about not receiving their S$49 deposit back—with hashtags of #refundmyobikedeposit plastered over Facebook. Abandoned Obikes remain an eyesore all over the island, with their bicycles indiscriminately littering public places. Since Obike unceremoniously ceased their operations in Singapore, over one million users have been left to figure out other solutions for their transport needs. It remains to be seen what will fill the void: whether they will return to the overcrowded commuter busses and trains, walk on the pavement alongside bike riders, or try out a new bike-sharing app.
Grabcycle is in the limelight
Obike’s abrupt departure put Grabcycle in the limelight, as they are now the referral for former Obike customers. Grabcycle lets users choose from a range of bike-share operators, which in Singapore had been only two, and without Obike is now down to one. With the sudden loss of Obike’s enormous fleet, Grabcycle has opted to put their customers needs first by offering a four-week free trial on Anywheel bicycles, while waiving active subscription and deposit fees as they work to rebuild their fleet by forging partnerships with other bike-sharing companies. Yet former Obike customers are still irritated with some taking it out on Grabcycle by asking for returns on their Obike deposits, regardless of Grabcycle’s generous efforts.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be imposing new regulations with the introduction of the Parking Places (Amendment) Bill, largely because of indiscriminate parking problems: businesses had to apply for a license by 7 July 2018, otherwise they will not be able to operate legally for one full year. Operator fleet sizes will be reviewed every six months to monitor for issues of oversupply. New focus will be put on bike maintenance, and user information will be shared among all operators to punish users who don’t comply with operator rules. New fees will be imposed on operators and stiff fines and even jail time are possible if unlicensed operators ignore the new regulations. With these additional costs, two big players in the industry have already dropped out of the competition, leaving fewer alternatives and, hence, incentives for the user.
Since August 2017, Singapore-based SG Bike has put their pay-per-use EZ-link-enabled bikes into circulation. These handsome lightweight bikes were the first of their kind to make effective use of geostation technology to enhance accuracy of parking, making the system more user-friendly. No deposit is necessary and they offer family plans, with up to three bicycles on one account.
The second player to enter the market, Mobike, offers rewards for good user behaviour, such as reporting broken or misparked bikes, and parking in legal areas. Poor bicycle manners will lower Mobike credit scores and put the user at risk for having their accounts frozen. They also added the perk of eliminating the deposit requirement after Obike ceased operations in Singapore.
The third operator on the Singapore scene hails from Beijing. With an impressive fleet of 80,000 bicycles in Singapore, (and 10 million in their international fleet operating in over 250 cities), they are committed to improving the environment. Additional users enrol through their direct marketing program of coupons and free-ride promotions. No deposit is needed and the bikes can be parked in any legal parking area.
Though one of the youngest and lesser-known companies, Anywheel is currently the only bike-sharing company running on Grabcycle. Based only in Singapore, no deposit is needed. These bikes provide solutions for the first mile/last mile (FMLM) problem to train stations.
What’s next in Singapore for bike-sharing?
It remains to be seen whether bike shares will be the definitive solution for commuters and everyday users. The industry is young and serious issues are still being figured out, while new government regulations are attempting to address its shortfalls. So far, existing operators have reported that Obike’s departure has not impacted their businesses. Now it is a matter of customer attitudes and preferences towards bike sharing that may determine the next phase in this industry.