Why It Matters

Bike-sharing on right track?

The recent emergence of private bike-sharing providers in Singapore ended the Government's plan to launch a public bicycle-sharing scheme.

The three firms currently operating here - oBike, Mobike and ofo - allow people to use bicycles as a mode of first- and last-mile commuting, in line with the country's car-lite push.

With plans to introduce "many thousands" of two-wheelers over the next two years, these private firms have effectively removed the need for a public scheme "backed by government grants", which was originally due to be launched by the end of this year.

For taxpayers, this is likely to be a good thing.

Even though public bike-sharing programmes have proved popular in other cities such as Paris and Taipei, they are expensive to operate, requiring substantial corporate and government backing.

London's bike-sharing scheme, for example, is said to have cost the city more than $300 million between 2010 and 2016.

This is more than four times the amount underwritten by Barclays bank, the scheme's original sponsor.

Closer to home, this newspaper reported last year that the Singapore Government was seeking sponsors to defray the costs of its own programme to the tune of more than $1 million annually.

First proposed in 2014, the government scheme was to have seen more than 2,000 bicycles being made available in the Jurong Lake District, as well as Marina Bay, Pasir Ris and Tampines. However, given that an earlier scheme - Town Bike, backed by insurer NTUC Income - folded after five years (2003-2008) owing to lack of use, it remains to be seen whether China's bike-sharing boom, with 450,000 such two-wheelers in Shanghai alone, will be duplicated in Singapore.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2017, with the headline 'Bike-sharing on right track?'. Print Edition | Subscribe