Disruption

Third bicycle-sharing firm could complicate plans for national scheme

Mr Bohnert, Mobike's head of international expansion, says the firm is in a "good position" to win the national bike-sharing tender.
Mr Bohnert, Mobike's head of international expansion, says the firm is in a "good position" to win the national bike-sharing tender.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Chinese firm Mobike has entered the bike-sharing fray, announcing its official launch in Singapore with a dinner event at the F1 Pit Building along Republic Boulevard yesterday evening.

Mobike, which has been quietly rolling out its two-wheelers here in recent months, in areas such as East Coast Park and Kallang, joins the other two firms trying to carve out a space in the market here.

China-based ofo started operations last month, while local venture oBike began in January.

Mobike, which launched in Shanghai a year ago, currently has more than one million bicycles across 33 cities in China.

The firm declined to say how many bikes it currently has in Singapore, or how much it is investing in its operations here. However, it announced last month that it had raised more than $425 million in funding this year, with Temasek Holdings and hedge fund Hillhouse Capital among the investors.

Mobike and its competitors utilise a dockless system. Unlike conventional bike-share schemes, which require users to park at fixed docking stations, dockless shared bikes can be parked anywhere and are unlocked using a mobile app.

Mobike, identified last December as one of the 13 firms in the running for the national bike-sharing scheme, is in a "good position" to win the tender, said head of international expansion Florian Bohnert.

The emergence of commercial operators has put a kink in the plans for a national scheme, which is slated to launch by the year end with 2,330 bicycles in Jurong Lake District, Marina Bay, Tampines and Pasir Ris.

Earlier this month, Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng said the Government was assessing whether to proceed with its plans for a national scheme, and that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) was carefully studying the bids.

Observers were divided over whether the authorities should proceed with their plans.

"My sense is that the Government scheme should be shelved until more is known about the viability of the bike-share operators," said Singapore University of Social Sciences economist Walter Theseira.

However, National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said that the national scheme should proceed. He said: "Even though there are commercial operators, they could close shop. If we are sure that cycling is the way we want to go, then the Government should be involved."

Mobike and its competitors utilise a dockless system. Unlike conventional bike-share schemes, which require users to park at fixed docking stations, dockless shared bikes can be parked anywhere and are unlocked using a mobile app.

However, this system has resulted in problems both here and in China.

The Sembawang Town Council has had to move shared bikes parked in front of access points such as dry risers, following complaints from residents.

The East Coast-Fengshan Town Council has issued removal notices on shared bicycles found at its public bike racks, saying these are not meant for "commercial activity".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'Third bicycle-sharing firm could complicate plans for national scheme'. Print Edition | Subscribe