Dockless bike-sharing company oBike threw in the towel this week. Its departure from the Singapore market could mark the beginning of the end for an urban experiment that was controversial from the first pedal but which, at the same time, held real promise for solving the longstanding first-and-last-mile connectivity problem for commuters. The bikes were part of an unplanned revolution that took many by surprise. At the start of last year, a number of companies began scattering, almost unannounced, thousands of bicycles across the island. They did this in other cities too, with one Australian commentator calling it a "move in first, ask for forgiveness later" approach.
The authorities scrambled to adapt to the new reality. A docked bicycle sharing scheme it had invited tenders for in 2016 was called off. Docked schemes, such as Citi Bike in New York and Velib in Paris, make for neater sidewalks but are less convenient as docking stations take up more space and are thus built at further-apart intervals. Dockless schemes - a newer phenomenon, enabled by technology for unlocking bikes using a phone app - mean a shorter walk for users as these bikes can be available anywhere. But ubiquity became the scheme's biggest selling point and its Achilles' heel. Public disquiet grew over time, as the bikes proved not just an eyesore on the urban landscape but a hindrance as well - for example, when they cluttered passageways.