LTA shelves govt-run bicycle-sharing plans

Chinese company ofo’s bright yellow bicycles outside Punggol MRT station.
Chinese company ofo’s bright yellow bicycles outside Punggol MRT station.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Three private firms already looking to offer thousands of bikes over next two years: LTA

A government-backed bike-sharing scheme has been shelved after several private firms began offering such services this year.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that it "reassessed" its plans given that the firms, local start-up oBike as well as China-based ofo and Mobike, are already looking to roll out "many thousands" of pay-as-you-use bicycles over the next two years.

The scheme, which was scheduled to launch this year-end with more than 2,300 bicycles in the Jurong Lake District, as well as Marina Bay, Tampines and Pasir Ris, had already attracted tenders from 13 firms.

French firm Smoove, which has bike-sharing systems in cities such as Helsinki and Bangkok and submitted a bid, was "disappointed" with LTA's turnaround. Mobike, which also submitted a bid, said it respected the decision. Other bidders included local transport operators Tower Transit and SMRT.

"The ongoing plans by the private dockless bike-sharing system operators have obviated the need for a government-run system backed by government grants," LTA said. It will "continue to monitor developments in the bike-sharing landscape, and introduce new plans if necessary".

First proposed three years ago, the scheme was part of the Government's car-lite push, which also includes doubling the cycling network here to 700km by 2030.

In January, oBike began rolling out its bicycles at MRT stations islandwide. It was joined in quick succession by ofo, which launched about 1,000 bikes last month, and Mobike, the latest entrant joining this week.

The Government's plan was expected to mirror traditional bike- share systems, such as in London, in which bicycles are loaned and returned at specialised docking stations. Around 210 such stations were planned for Singapore.

Since then, a new kiosk-free bike- sharing model has emerged. This "dockless" system uses an app by which users can locate the bikes for rent and unlock them. Riders are free to leave the bikes wherever their journey ends. Dubbed "Uber for bikes", this model requires less investment as it does away with stations.

LTA, which received bids involving both systems, pointed out that "the experiences of docked bicycle-sharing programmes in cities such as London and Taipei have been that they typically require public sector funding for sustainability."

Cycling group Love Cycling SG's co-founder Francis Chu said it made sense for the LTA to hold off on its bike-sharing plans. He hopes the funding could instead be used to improve cycling infrastructure.

Dockless systems, however, are not without their problems. In China, where dockless bike-sharing has caught on in a big way, there have been reports of bicycles being parked haphazardly, and being left unattended - an emerging issue here. Last month for instance, The Straits Times found 40 such bikes parked illegally at motorcycle parking spaces in Pasir Ris Park.

The LTA, in its statement yesterday, said it would take "strict enforcement action" against improperly parked bicycles. "This includes impounding of the bicycles and heavy fines, including against dockless bicycle-sharing system operators, and if necessary, regulatory action as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'LTA shelves govt-run bicycle-sharing plans'. Print Edition | Subscribe