LTA must do more to ensure oBike users get refunds

Considering our push towards a healthy lifestyle and a car-lite society, the Land Transport Authority's (LTA's) rush in rolling out shared-bicycle initiatives is understandable.

However, as in many programmes that are rushed out, the spirit is willing but the infrastructure is weak.

The news of oBike exiting Singapore is a case in point (oBike closes in S'pore, cites difficulty meeting LTA rules; June 26).

Perhaps more policy planning before policy implementation would have reduced the negative consequences downstream. More important now is how the authorities manage the negative fallout.

In this regard, LTA's official response was rather disappointing as it seemed as if it was washing its hands of the mess when it asked thousands of oBike subscribers to refer their refund complaints to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary solutions.

This is not a problem that involves a small group of disgruntled bike-sharing consumers against an errant private firm.

The root of the problem is the way that LTA allowed the company and the scheme to be approved in the first place. Therefore, LTA has a moral obligation to sort out the problem upstream with oBike on behalf of the consumers.

Have we not learnt from the mini-bond crisis of 2008 when the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) then dismissed the debilitating financial hot potato as a private matter bound by the legality of caveat emptor between depositors and banks, only for pent-up frustrations of Singaporeans to spill from social media to the Speakers' Corner in protests?

Thankfully, MAS learnt its lesson and struck a fairer balance between private accountability and corporate disclosure, and ensured consumers are offered better protection.

I sincerely hope that LTA will take on a more active role in ensuring that Singaporeans are refunded their oBike deposits.

It makes no sense to have thousands going to Case, which would then have to deal with each complaint separately.

LTA should view this as an exercise in crisis and not casual communication. This is a class action situation and LTA must, simply, act.

Sunny Goh (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2018, with the headline 'LTA must do more to ensure oBike users get refunds'. Print Edition | Subscribe