Extension granted to clear ofo bikes

The LTA said that ofo has shown progress since Feb 14 in implementing a QR code system that would allow its bicycles to be parked only within specified areas.
The LTA said that ofo has shown progress since Feb 14 in implementing a QR code system that would allow its bicycles to be parked only within specified areas.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Chinese bike-sharing firm ofo has earned a stay of execution here, after the Land Transport Authority (LTA) granted it more time to remove its bicycles from public spaces.

The firm's licence to operate here is currently suspended for not meeting LTA regulatory requirements.

It was due to be cancelled if ofo did not remove its bikes from public spaces by Wednesday.

In a statement yesterday, the LTA said ofo had requested more time to remove its bicycles from public places as ofo headquarters had "informed LTA that it is in advanced stages of negotiations to partner ofo Singapore with another party".

The LTA added that ofo has shown progress since Feb 14 in implementing a QR code system that would allow its bicycles to be parked only within specified areas.

"LTA has therefore acceded to ofo's extension request. During this extension, ofo's licence will continue to be suspended," it said.

The authority added that ofo's licence will be cancelled if it ultimately fails to fully comply with regulatory requirements.

 
 
 

It did not specify a date as to when the extension will end.

Ofo has been mired in problems since the turn of the year.

Its licence was suspended last month after it missed a deadline to meet LTA's requirements.

It failed to introduce the QR code-based parking system, and did not update its app to allow for the banning of users who repeatedly park outside designated areas.

Dozens of customers had also complained about unauthorised charges by ofo, and their cases remain unresolved.

Should ofo's licence be cancelled, it would lose the right to operate bike-sharing services in Singapore.

Unlicensed operators can face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a jail term of up to six months, with a further fine of $500 for each day the offence continues after conviction.

A spokesman for ofo was unavailable for comment.

The firm's reprieve comes after a decision by fellow Chinese firm Mobike earlier this week to withdraw from the Singapore market.

The developments will leave local firms SG Bike and Anywheel as the only viable bike-sharing operators here. They operate a combined fleet of 4,000 bikes.

Anywheel founder Htay Aung said it has been approached about taking over Mobike's licence to run 25,000 bikes. The firm is now discussing the proposal internally.

The suspension of ofo's licence capped the firm's rapid fall from grace in Singapore and overseas.

Ofo has been operating in Singapore since early 2017, with more than 90,000 bikes here, according to a former employee.

It was the largest bike-sharing company in the world, and had 10 million bikes in more than 250 cities at one point last year.

Its prospects had looked rosy when it secured US$866 million (S$1.17 billion) in March last year, from backers including Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group.

But reports emerged late last year that ofo was battling "immense" cash-flow problems and that it had considered disbanding as an option.

The company has not shown any signs of a turnaround since.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2019, with the headline 'Extension granted to clear bikes'. Print Edition | Subscribe