New bike-share scheme hits the road

Chinese company ofo's bright yellow bicycles outside Punggol MRT station. Direct competitor Obike's white bicycles are already available for rent at almost every MRT station. Both plan to expand their fleet of bicycles. Experts reckon the two schemes
Chinese company ofo's bright yellow bicycles outside Punggol MRT station. Direct competitor Obike's white bicycles are already available for rent at almost every MRT station. Both plan to expand their fleet of bicycles. Experts reckon the two schemes would muscle out the national one that the LTA is launching.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Chinese firm ofo joins the ride, just a month after local firm Obike, which has plans to expand

The bicycle-sharing scene in Singapore is heating up, with a new company setting up shop and an existing player rapidly expanding its fleet of bicycles.

The latest entrant into the market is Chinese company ofo, which has launched about 1,000 bikes in areas such as Punggol and West Coast Park and in the city area.

The company, which operates in major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, started operations here last week.

Its direct competitor Obike, a Singapore-based start-up with both local and Chinese investors, already has "a few thousand" bikes islandwide after it launched a month ago.

A company spokesman, who declined to give specifics, said Obike plans to bring in "tens of thousands" more bikes by the middle of the year.

  • How to use ofo bikes

  • The Straits Times tried out the ofo bicycles at Punggol MRT station.

    Here is how to use them:

    •Find an ofo bike and key in the bike's unique serial number into the ofo mobile app. You will get a passcode to unlock the bike.

    •Use the passcode to unlock the number lock on the rear wheel.

    •When returning a bike, park it, lock it and end the trip by tapping on the app. Each trip will cost 50 cents - but the firm is allowing people to use the bikes for free while they are on trial.

    While the passcodes on the ofo bikes are static, an ofo company spokesman said its staff will routinely go around to manually change the passcodes. The company added that it is confident the bikes will not be stolen, given Singapore's low crime rate.

    Danson Cheong

Both companies have moved to entrench themselves in the local market, ahead of the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) national bike- share scheme due to launch in the fourth quarter of this year.

An ofo spokesman said the company will progressively expand its fleet of yellow, single-gear bicycles, to provide a convenient mode of transport for residents. "In future, you'll be able to see an ofo bike wherever there is a bicycle parking area," said the spokesman in Mandarin.

White Obike bicycles are already available for rent at almost every MRT station. "Our goal is for consumers to have access to a bike every 200m in an HDB estate," said the Obike spokesman.

Both systems are novel in that they do not require users to return the machines at fixed stations - a standard feature of bike-share schemes worldwide. Users unlock the bikes with their mobile phones and can return them at any area where bicycles can be parked.

The eventual fleet size of both players is projected to dwarf that of the LTA's, which is slated to launch with about 2,330 bicycles in Jurong Lake District, Marina Bay, Tampines and Pasir Ris.

The LTA's scheme is expected to follow the traditional bike-share model, where users have to rent and return bikes at more than 210 specialised docking stations.

When asked if the new entrants would affect the viability of the national scheme, the LTA said they provide more options to the public and greater access to bike sharing, especially in areas not served by its scheme.

Experts reckon the two schemes would muscle out the national one that LTA is launching.

"I really do not see the market potential for more than one player here," said National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng, pointing out that Obike and ofo offer more convenience as they do not require users to look for docking stations to return bikes.

Transport economist Michael Li said LTA has been a little "too modest" with the size of its bike-share pilot, but cautioned the two new entrants against rapid expansion.

"I will be very cautious about expanding aggressively. Operating on a large scale, you will incur a lot of capital costs, and there will be a lot of pressure to be financially viable."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2017, with the headline 'New bike-share scheme hits the road'. Print Edition | Subscribe