In Short

How can we get more people to cycle to work?

Thousands of people bike around Singapore every day, but only a negligible proportion of them cycle to work. PHOTO: ST FILE

In Short brings to you selected Opinion pieces in bite-sized portions. This is a shorter version of the full commentary.

When I met Mr Kelvin Phang, the founder of the RIDEnjoy app, it was apt that we both cycled to the appointment at the McDonald’s in Bishan Park.

Me, because I was doing the ground work for an article on how to nudge leisure cyclists to cycle to work, and thought  I should practise what I was going to preach, and cycle to the interview.

Mr Phang, because he is such a believer in active travel, he founded an app just for it. 

RIDEnjoy is conceptualised as an “active mobility lifestyle app” to help cyclists, walkers and joggers move around. It utilises a navigation tool based on the Singapore Land Authority’s OneMap. The app is chockful of other useful features besides a map. An SOS button allows users to call for emergency assistance; another to report incidents on cycling paths or park connector network that needs attention. Location of bike parking lots, water coolers, bike-friendly eateries, bike repair shops, and more are featured on the map.

For now, Ridenjoy is in its infancy.  Since its launch about three months ago, it has signed up over 16,000 users.

But Mr Phang, who calls himself the Chief Joy Officer and turned up for the interview in the company’s canary yellow jersey on his easy-to-spot canary yellow Raleigh bike, is upbeat about its growth. 

“Cycling is only going to get more popular as more will consider it as more than a sport or for recreation. Ridenjoy is really a community-powered navigation app for all active mobility users. Whatever mode you use, we need to co-exist harmoniously on shared infrastructure.

“Navigation aside, it’s also an active lifestyle app with rewards gamification. When you ride, you can enjoy with instant deals when you arrive at our partner merchants or earn mileage points redeemable for discounts in the upcoming in-app marketplace.

“You can also take part in free to play events and collect virtual items when you pass by certain checkpoints, so there is a sense of being in a mixed reality game. It’s also social, and our users had been using the Moments button to share photos of their rides including incidents of otters-spotting. A reporting button also allows one to report on road obstacles or wild dogs or share favourite rest-stops for prata or bak chor mee. We want to enhance the joy of riding through sharing.”

Mr Phang, 50, is a digital marketeer who runs Empower, an integrated marketing consultancy. He lived in Shanghai from 2005 to 2014, where he saw first hand the rise of super apps and the integration of services on a mobile phone - as transport booking apps added on lifestyle features, e-shopping and finance. He believes there is scope to do something similar for those who cycle, walk, or use personal mobility devices to get around.

“Starting a start-up at 50 is no joke,” he says with a smile. “But Ridenjoy brings together two of my passions - as a former triathlete I love cycling; and I think mobility devices have a long runway ahead in Singapore; and as someone in integrated marketing, I can see the potential of transforming a journey into a blended experience offering both virtual and real-world rewards, to attract families and younger users.”

Mr Phang is one of the many active mobility advocates here who believe that Singapore is poised to take off as an active mobility hub.

Active mobility refers to the use of cycling, walking, PMDs and other devices , as a mode of transport, rather than using motor vehicles. Advocates also believe in designing human-centric towns where people can walk or cycle to most amenities.

The global trend towards active mobility is the backdrop against which cycling enthusiasts are trying to advocate for more road space in Singapore for bikes.

In Singapore, as I wrote in my article published on April 8, recreational cycling is becoming mainstream, with cycling named the top sport people take part in, after walking and jogging. Every day, thousands of people bike around the island on the park connector networks and pavements; with a smaller proportion riding on roads. The government has pledged to expand the cycling path network, to about 1,300km by 2030.

But those who cycle to work makes up such a negligible proportion of people, it does not even feature as a separate category in the most recent 2020 population census. In 2014, a minister estimated that cycling made up 1 to 2 per cent of transport modes.

What's needed to nudge cyclists, many of whom ride for leisure and fitness today, into commuting cyclists who ride to work?

I posed this question a month ago, in two cyclists' groups on Facebook, Love Cycling SG and SG PCN Cyclists. I had a couple of hundred comments, with multiple threads. People sent me links to interesting articles and videos. I went down fascinating rabbitholes of information, learning and marvelling.

As I told the commenters when I shared my article and thanked them for their help, I felt I could have written a thesis on cycling and road usage, but had only one page in The Straits Times.

So what would move people to ride to work?

More direct bike paths than the PCN and pavement network.

For eg, this can be done by turning some residential roads into "bicycle streets" and limiting the speed limit to 30 kmh.

In Parliament, Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim had suggested painting bike lanes onto less-used roads in towns and letting bikes have priority on them.

Workplace facilities for bike parking and showers. Many people cited this as critical to their decision on whether to ride to work.

Government grants are available for workplaces to make workplaces bike-friendly with amenities like bike-parking and shower facilities.

Changing the interaction dynamics between cyclists and motorists so there is more acceptance of cycling as a mode of transport, while also making sure cyclists do not break traffic rules.

Some also suggested looking at the experience of European cities where more vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists are given more protection under the law.

From my two brief experiences cycling to work-related events - one for a meeting and the other for the interview with Mr Phang - I would say that safety is the paramount concern.

Cyclists will ride when they feel safe. This requires a strong safety culture among all road users.

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