Paris has Vélib’, Seoul has Ddareungi, Milan has BikeMi, Montreal has Bixi, and now Singapore has jumped on the bandwagon with a trio of privately owned bike-sharing services: Mobike, oBike, and ofo. A concept that found its footing in 1965 with Amsterdam as the first to adopt it, bicycle sharing has become the “new Uber of bike rentals”. Of course there are those who disagree, arguing that bicycle sharing is nothing like private-hire companies like Uber or Grab. Singapore’s Land Transport Authority initially had a plan in the works to debut in the Jurong Lake District with 1,000 bicycles and 100 docking stations before they trashed it when these private companies popped up.
(Featured Image: O Bike Singapore)
It’s been a long time coming, considering the obvious benefits of cycle commuting – economically, physically, and environmentally. At the average price of $0.50 for a 15-minute bicycle ride, it costs about the same as taking a bus or train, except you’re not just sitting or standing motionlessly in a vehicle. You’re burning calories. The pros call it “active transport”. The British Medical Journal published a report in April 2017 that showed people who cycled to work had a 52% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases, and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer than those who drive or take public transport. A compact, low-carbon mode of transportation that doesn’t need petrol to operate, bicycles could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 11% if they encompass 14% of travel in 2050, according to this study.
The launch of these bicycle-sharing systems is a small step towards building a solid cycling culture in Singapore. But, at the moment, they’re facing a few teething problems, threatening to prolong themselves and defeat this national ambition. Civic consciousness, or lack thereof, is the order of the day. As anticipated by the cynics, how can the local majority be trusted to respect the rules of the road and treat shared bicycles as they would their own, when they’ve been ignoring the responsibility of returning shopping carts for more than a decade? While most citizens have been cooperative, relentless reports exposing the misdeeds of certain users paint a precarious future for bike-sharing firms in Singapore.
The availability of each bicycle brand depends on your location. Choa Chu Kang, for instance, sees plenty of oBikes, but few ofo bicycles, whereas in Yio Chu Kang, it’s the opposite. As for Mobikes, most of them seem to congregate around the downtown district. Here is a guide to the three bike-sharing services for the newbie rider hoping to inject a bit of active transportation into their daily life.
The only local bicycle-sharing startup in existence right now, oBike made its official launch in April 2017 with a fleet of bikes available at almost every MRT station. White/silver with light orange features, these bicycles are the most widely accessible of the three, and are station-less, which allows you to get a bicycle anywhere. After downloading the app and creating a new account, users are required to pay a refundable $49 deposit ($19 for students) before they can start riding. New users also start with 100 credit points, given automatically upon registration.
The current cost is $0.50 for every 15 minutes. If you break any of its rules (e.g. failing to lock the bicycle after a trip, or parking at non-designated areas), demerits will be applied. Larger offences such as violating traffic laws, adding a private lock, and losing a bicycle will wipe out your credit score, which you’d want to avoid as going below 60 points raises the cost of a 15-minute ride to $50.
oBikes are heavier than the others, and they have no gears, making uphill cycling a struggle. Yet, they boast a sleek design and top-notch quality that promises a smooth, steady and quiet ride. Some of them also come with baskets, lights, and bells. That said, it was announced yesterday that they will be deploying 1,000 lighter bicycles with new features all over the island starting May 10, 2017.
To get a bicycle, first locate one through the in-app GPS. You have the option to reserve a specific bike for 10 minutes. When you get to your chosen two-wheeler, press the unlock button in the app. Remember to turn on your Bluetooth. It will prompt you to scan the QR code located either between the bicycle’s handlebar or on the back wheel. If it fails to unlock, the latch at the back wheel might be open. Push it down to lock the bicycle before you try scanning again. At the end of a session, park the vehicle at an appropriate area, and manually close the bicycle lock.
The app accepts credit and debit cards. It also requires you to top up the in-app wallet with a fixed minimum amount of $9 to pay for your rides. While it has no expiry date, it cannot be otherwise refunded, converted or transferred to other users.
These silver and orange bicycles, not to be confused with the similar appearance of oBikes, are the products of Mobike, a China-based company that recently launched this year in March. Founded in January by Hu Weiwei with about 3 million bicycles in China alone, it offers much of the same things as oBike. The app, available on Apple and Android phones, provides a GPS function to locate bicycles, and allows for bicycle reservations of up to 15 minutes.
Starting with 100 credits, it rewards points for each successfully completed ride, and charges penalties for minor and major offences. If your score dips below 80, the fare for a 30-minute ride increases to $20. Normally, a half-hour trip costs $1. Like oBike, a refundable $49 deposit is required to use the app, and the minimum top-up of $5 can be made with a credit or debit card.
Unlock a Mobike on your phone by scanning a QR code, situated on the handlebar or the lock attached to the back wheel, and end a trip by manually bolting the lock back in place after returning the vehicle to a designated parking area. Furnished with baskets, lights, bells, and reflectors, though without gears or adjustable seats, Mobikes are considerably lighter and easier to ride than oBikes. The major downside is that they are not as commonly found within heartland areas.
ofo bikes are a little different from its competitors. A Chinese brand, established in 2014 by Dai Wei in China that recently entered Singapore in February, these two-wheelers have no baskets, feature three gears and use a combination lock, as opposed to a digitally controlled, circular latch. Without a GPS tracker, ofo bicycles are also notoriously hard to find, although it does afford you a sense of privacy the other brands lack. It’s a good thing they come in the brightest and most visible colour to human eyes – bright yellow.
While the company is worth more than US$2 billion, some people certainly think rather lowly of its products, going so far as to deliberately destroy them without rhyme or reason. The most common target of bicycle thieves, vandals and wreckers, unethical users have spray painted ofo bicycles to pass them off as their own, tossed them straight into the trash, abandoned them in a canal, and simply slammed them repeatedly into the ground until they are unrecognisable. So if by some miracle you actually locate an ofo bike, there’s a pretty high chance you won’t be able to use it anyway.
Priced at $0.50 per trip, it is budget-wise the most competitive option. For now, new users get a free ride upon registration, as well as for every trip completed. All you need to do is download the app, sign up, and key in the number plate of your ofo bike to retrieve the code for your bicycle’s combination lock. As usual, park it before you lock it. The session will end when you manually lock the back wheel and press the “Trip Complete” button on the app.
Without designated biking paths along heavy roads, this new cycling scheme seems poised for short distance rides. But to prepare for the next step? We could learn a thing or two from the cycle superhighways of London, Germany and Copenhagen – that is, if our country isn’t already dense enough. Before we draw those blueprints, however, we need to first get the bike vandalism under control, and perhaps consider yet another courtesy campaign.