Instead of heading to the scrapyard, 10,000 bicycles from failed bike-sharing companies ofo and oBike will get a new lease of life as gifts for needy students in Myanmar.
A Myanmar non-profit, Lesswalk, bought them in April and will start giving them out from the end of this month. The bicycles were bought from third parties like warehouse operators, who were left holding the unused bikes after ofo and oBike folded in Singapore and Malaysia.
The estimated total cost of buying, shipping and refurbishing the bicycles was between US$350,000 (S$479,000) and US$400,000. Half of the cost will likely be paid by sponsors and the rest, by Lesswalk.
More than 3,000 bikes have been shipped to Myanmar, with the rest expected to reach the country by the end of this month. All bicycles are slated to be given out by the year end.
Lesswalk founder Mike Than Tun Win, 33, who spent almost 18 years in Singapore as a student and is now back home in Yangon, told The Straits Times in a phone interview yesterday that he had the idea about a year ago, and started to act on it in March.
"Some kids walk for up to one hour to school, and most don't take school buses or even know what school buses are," he said. "This movement is not about buying a new bicycle, which is a very straightforward process. It solves a waste problem and gets new bikes for needy children at a cheaper price."
Shared-bike firms such as ofo and oBike took off in the initial years of their operations, with their bikes flooding streets worldwide in an intense competition for market share. But the bubble has burst for various operators, with investor funds drying up and many failing to find a sustainable model for their business.
Following their collapse, many bikes were wheeled to scrapyards as operators and their vendors sought to recover funds.
Mr Than said: "For the scrapyards, they can get maybe about $10 a bike. It is not a lot to them. But these bikes can mean a lot to the students, who can be more productive, save 80 per cent of their time travelling and feel a sense of warmth that people care."
Mr Than aims to distribute the bicycles to rural villages, and has identified students living 2km away from school and aged between 13 to 16 as the main beneficiaries.
All 10,000 bikes will be repainted to promote the Lesswalk movement. An extra seat, a smaller one, will be installed for students to ferry siblings. And the locks will be replaced with a manual lock and key.
The two-wheelers were bought with the help of Singapore bike-sharing firm Anywheel, which acted as the middleman.
Founded by Myanmar national Htay Aung, it bought 4,000 ofo bikes from an unnamed party that won a public auction held by warehouse operator Bok Seng Logistics in April. Meanwhile, the 6,000 bicycles from oBike were bought from a warehouse operator in Malaysia.
Mr Htay Aung told ST that the transaction prices could not be disclosed owing to business reasons.
"Helping to bring the discarded bikes to people who needed them more was something we had wanted to do. We are glad that Lesswalk has taken the lead, and that is why we are helping it on a non-profit basis," he added.
Lesswalk's Mr Than, who runs a technology company named BOD Tech Ventures, hopes his work will inspire a coordinated movement worldwide. He plans to expand Lesswalk's work by distributing 100,000 bicycles to poor people in his own country as well as Laos and Cambodia.
"Ten thousand is just the tip of the iceberg. Globally, there are millions of these bikes, and I just have to connect them to the right people."