oBike must commit to prompt removal of bicycles, LTA says

It adds that bike-sharing firm must have concrete plan to refund customers their deposits

Reminder notices for fines pasted on the windows of oBike's office.
Reminder notices for fines pasted on the windows of oBike's office.ST PHOTO: DEEPANRAJ GANESAN

Bike-sharing firm oBike must show its commitment to a "full and prompt removal" of its bicycles and make a concrete plan to refund customers their deposits, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday.

Only then will the authority consider extending the deadline for oBike to remove its bikes, said an LTA spokesman.

In an interview with The Straits Times on Monday, oBike chairman Shi Yi had said the firm was not likely to meet today's deadline to collect all 70,000 of its bikes from public areas.

In another media interview, he said financial penalties imposed by the LTA for failing to remove its bikes could eat into the funds available to refund customers.

oBike users, who were required to make deposits of up to $49, were left wondering if they would get their money back when the firm closed suddenly on June 25.

LTA said it was "deeply disappointed" by Mr Shi's comments, as oBike had committed to "exit the market responsibly" by removing its bicycles from public spaces as soon as possible and to refund customers. This commitment had been given at a meeting between LTA and oBike founders, including Mr Shi, last Saturday.

"oBike further pledged it would pay for the clean-up of bicycles using funds from its shareholders or other sources, and not user deposits," said LTA.

LTA said it was oBike's responsibility to have a concrete plan to refund customers' deposits, and it was incumbent on the firm to source the funds to cover the cost of winding down its operations.

It added: "If LTA has to step in to remove its bicycles after they are found to be parked indiscriminately beyond the grace period, we will have to impose the relevant fees on oBike, so as to avoid having taxpayers bear the burden of the operator's irresponsible actions."

Separately, the beleaguered bike-sharing firm has also failed to pay more than $140,000 in fines to five town councils, an amount that may never be recovered now that the company has folded.

When ST visited oBike's vacant office yesterday, it saw 172 final reminder notices, for fines amounting to $86,000, from the Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council pasted on the windows.

Nee Soon Town Council chairman Louis Ng said it was owed $25,600 while his counterpart in Tanjong Pagar, Mr Melvin Yong, put the amount at about $30,000.

Jurong-Clementi Town Council chairman Ang Wei Neng said oBike owed it $3,500 while Marine Parade Town Council chairman Lim Biow Chuan said there were eight outstanding summons amounting to $2,600.

oBike's Mr Shi told ST on Monday that as part of its exit strategy, the firm had considered giving away its bicycles to users in lieu of paying back the deposit, though this plan was ultimately dismissed.

However, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing partner Jonathan Kok said such a decision can be made only by the liquidator, and not by oBike.

He added: "The liquidator will take into account the overall value of the assets of the company and the overall debts owing to the creditors (in particular the secured creditors) in order to determine what is the best way to raise money to pay off the creditors."

Mr Kok said the liquidator can sell the bicycles and use the money to settle debts owed to creditors, which may include refunding the deposits owing to users. But whether users get their refunds would depend on the money raised from the sale of assets.

Users could face criminal charges if a police report is filed against them for taking a bike home, said Farallon Law Corporation managing director Nicolas Tang, adding: "Creditors will not be able to receive the full amount of debt owed to them and will most likely only receive a portion of what is owed, or none at all."

• Additional reporting by Deepanraj Ganesan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2018, with the headline 'oBike must commit to prompt removal of bicycles, LTA says'. Subscribe