ST Scroll Back: Will $5 rein in out-of-the-(parking)-box behaviour of shared-bike users?

Discarded oBikes at a recycling firm in Tuas on July 14, 2018.
Discarded oBikes at a recycling firm in Tuas on July 14, 2018. PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Five dollars is the cost of a meal - but this modest amount may well be the way forward in reducing the external costs of irresponsible bike parking.

From January, those who park shared bikes outside demarcated zones will fork out $5 in extra fees, and repeated offenders may face up to a year’s ban from bike-sharing services.

This could be the news some in Singapore have been waiting for - especially joggers who find themselves in an impromptu Ninja Warrior episode as they leap over strewn bikes on footpaths.  

The solution may not be perfect - it could put off some users from using the service altogether and others may find ways around it - but it does finally seem to be one with more teeth.

This latest move marks another pit stop in the long journey towards responsible bike sharing, which first rode into town in January last year.

BUMPS ON THE ROAD

Just a month after bike sharing made its debut here, indiscriminate parking reared its ugly head with 40 bikes from ofo illegally taking up motorcycle parking spaces at Pasir Ris Park.

It was to be the start of a long battle against bike-sharing users with out-of-the-(parking)-box thinking, as complaints ranged from bikes blocking dry risers to the bikes being an eyesore.

Like a stalker you never knew you had, you couldn’t guess when the next chunk of metal would peek out from around the corner.  


When good parking behaviour takes a dive, bike sightings come out of the blue (or at a murky river at Springleaf Nature Park in Upper Thomson). ST PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW


Shared bikes have been left in every conceivable spot, from the canal to the cemetery. ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

Then things got worse. People were not only leaving the bikes in forbidden places but picking up these hefty models - each can easily weigh more than 10kg - and hurling them from high places, and into canals.

Bike abuse here became blatant - they were stomped on, repainted, and in one case found muddied and ditched in a drain.


A brutal end - bruised, muddied and left for dead in a drain. PHOTO: STOMP

Was there no one riding on the bike rights movement? Were the wheels starting to come off, both literally and figuratively?

A SMOOTHER RIDE FOR ALL

It was time to iron out the kinks, decided the authorities and bike-sharing companies.

Solutions ranged from a credit rating system, where errant users were booted out by the firms from their apps, to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) impounding stray bikes and dishing out fines to companies.

 

Then, in October last year, bike-sharing companies were required to implement a more high-tech solution to tackle parking issues - geofencing, which sends out an alert when a bike enters or leaves a designated parking area.

The public was also roped in to help report errant bikes, with a new category created on the OneService app in November for this.

Some even decided to take things into their own hands, or rather, take damaged stray bikes into their own hands.

In this case, these fingers also tickled the ivories, as Mr Zhivko Girginov, who has lived in Singapore for more than nine years, is a piano teacher.

"Lifting the bikes on to the lorry can be very tiring," the Bulgarian said to The Straits Times last December, adding that he had taken to wearing gloves to protect his hands on his rounds.

Despite these initiatives, bike-parking woes persisted. Hopefully, the latest measures grease the wheels to better user behaviour.

100,000 - the estimated number of shared bikes in Singapore as of March this year. Last month, the LTA said it had removed more than 35,000 of oBike’s bicycles from public spaces after the bike-sharing firm abruptly ended its operations here on June 25.

267,000 - number of bicycle parking spaces that will be available by 2020, said LTA. There are currently slightly more than 200,000.  

About $9,000,000 - the amount in deposits owed to 220,000 users by bike-sharing firm oBike, according to its provisional liquidators, FTI Consulting, in July this year. The bike-sharing firm’s chairman Shi Yi had told ST earlier in July that the amount was $6.3 million.

12 months - the duration a user can be banned up to under the latest LTA regulations for errant bike parking. The new rules will be in effect from January.

7 - the number of companies that applied for a licence to operate a bike-sharing service in Singapore in July, under a new licensing framework by LTA which aims to curb illegal bicycle parking.

30 minutes - The amount of time each shared bike is used a day in Singapore, according to a study by the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, leading to concerns that the bikes are heavily under-utilised.

PEDAL OFF ELSEWHERE?

The bike-share concept took off worldwide as a billion-dollar industry driven by venture capitalists after humble beginnings as a university project in China a few years ago.

Today, Chinese companies ofo and Mobike operate millions of bikes in hundreds of cities across the globe.  

And irresponsible bike-sharing behaviour is not limited to Singapore.

Bike-sharing company Mobike pulled out of Manchester this month after losing 10 per cent of its bikes monthly from theft and vandalism.

It is the first among 200 cities worldwide to lose Mobike operations because of persistent crime, reported the BBC.

There was a viral video of a gang hurling rocks at one of the bikes in the British city, and many were reported to have been stolen, dumped in canals and bins, had locks hacked off or been set on fire.

Elsewhere, the rental bike’s close cousin, the rental e-scooter, was also not spared the brutality.

In Atlanta, an Instagram account called Bird Graveyard was set up sharing images and videos of the rental scooters being destroyed and even set on fire in the US city.

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Down Under, oBike exited the Melbourne market in June this year after inadvertently creating a new sport - “oBike fishing”.

There were widespread pictures and videos of the yellow bikes being dumped in the south-eastern state of Victoria - in trees, on roofs and in the Yarra River.

A new genre of shared-bike art was also introduced in the Australian city - a street sculpture of the shared bikes, spray-painted in the colours of a rainbow, was found.

An oBike Australia spokesman told ABC Radio Melbourne: "It (the sculpture) is supposedly claimed to be done by Mr Banksy himself, but we are not sure."

British street artist Banksy is known worldwide for his graffiti stencils.

There was also artistic beauty to be found in the bike graveyards in Xiamen, China, in photos captured by Weibo user Chen Lifen. The landfills, covering an area the size of several football fields, contained thousands of unused and damaged shared bikes.


Discarded bikes or abstract art? PHOTO: WEIBO/ CHEN LIFEN


Recycling discarded bikes into art, so to speak. PHOTO: WEIBO/ CHEN LIFEN


Such beauty. PHOTO: WEIBO/ CHEN LIFEN

CITIES PUT THE BRAKES ON

Some cities have hit back with harsh regulations to rein in bike-sharing companies which they deem to be irresponsible.

In Melbourne, the environmental authority of Victoria hit oBike with a hefty fine of A$3,000 (S$2,960) for each abandoned bike that blocked a street for two hours, after which the company halted its business there.

A London borough, Wandsworth, also went on the offensive, impounding the yellow oBikes in August last year.

A transport spokesman for the borough, Mr Jonathan Cook, did not spare oBike any blushes, and said: “It is rather naive to simply dump thousands of bicycles on London’s streets without any warning or discussion beforehand.”

In Japan, where there are stringent laws against clutter on footpaths, bike-sharing companies were cautious not to heap bikes onto the streets overnight, but worked with local retailers and the authorities first to provide space for designated parking.

“You can’t just expand willy-nilly,” said an executive at Docomo Bikeshare, which has about 7,000 bicycles across 24 cities in the country.

As a result, firms like ofo have been taking it slow in Japan rather than flooding the streets with two-wheelers.

Meanwhile, in China, where it all began, local governments in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have banned companies from introducing more bikes to reduce parking issues, said the BBC.