New bike-sharing system gets rolling

ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG

oBike users, who pay $1 for 30 minutes, do not have to return bike at fixed stations

Without any fanfare, a new bicycle-sharing scheme has hit the road in the northern and western parts of Singapore.

The white, single-gear oBikes, which come with a bell and reflectors, are available for hire at MRT stations such as Buona Vista, Jurong East, Bukit Batok, Woodlands and Sembawang, among others.

Each can be rented through a mobile app at a cost of $1 for 30 minutes. A user scans a QR code on a bike with his phone, which automatically unlocks the machine.

It can then be ridden and parked at a bicycle parking bay near the user's destination. Charges stop once the bike is locked.

Payment is done via credit card.

oBike, a Chinese company, has broken away from other players making moves into the local market. They include Ofo and Mobike, which operate in major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai.

  • HOW IT WORKS

  • 1) Users can search for and reserve an available bike using oBike’s mobile app (available on both Google Play and iOS app store).

    They can then unlock the bike by scanning a QR code with their phone.

  • 2) Users are charged $1 for every half hour of use. Payment is made with their credit card.

  • 3) Bikes can be parked in any public bicycle park. Rental is ended by manually locking the bike.

It is not known how many oBikes there are in Singapore but The Straits Times found more than a dozen each at Buona Vista and Jurong East yesterday. A road test of the system found it easy to use.

The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Company records for oBike show that two of the company's three directors are from Shanghai. The listed address is a corporate services firm which is helping it to set up a presence here. A staff member of the corporate services firm told The Straits Times that oBike's representatives are currently in China.

The new scheme comes amid a concerted shift towards using bikes and other mobility devices as a means of commuting here.

On its part, the Government has called two tenders for bicycle-sharing systems of its own.

The first, by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), was for a pilot in Marina Bay, Tampines, Pasir Ris and the Jurong Lake District.

The tender closed last month and has yet to be awarded.

Last week, industrial developer JTC Corporation called a tender for a system involving either e-scooters or bicycles at its one-north business and research hub.

The oBike scheme is novel in that it does not require users to return the machines at fixed stations.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said this could prove to be both a boon and a bane. While users can park their bikes conveniently, it could also lead to a messy situation.

"Just imagine Orchard Road with a lot of oBikes everywhere, the Government may come down hard on them," said Prof Lee, adding that gathering the bikes for maintenance could also be challenging if they are scattered in different areas.

The LTA said operators and users had to make sure the bikes were not parked indiscriminately, and it would take action if this happened.

Life science researcher Wang Jun Xia, 44, who works at Biopolis, said yesterday was the first time he had seen the bikes at Buona Vista, adding that he would rent one soon for his commute to work from his home in Clementi.

"It's about the same price as an MRT trip but this way I can get some exercise," said Mr Wang.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2017, with the headline 'New bike-sharing system gets rolling'. Print Edition | Subscribe