Mobike exploring options ahead of planned Singapore exit

Mobike, the largest remaining bike-sharing operator, has submitted a proposal to the Land Transport Authority to leave the market.
Mobike, the largest remaining bike-sharing operator, has submitted a proposal to the Land Transport Authority to leave the market.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

It says it will work with LTA over possible transfer of operations to other bike-sharing firms here

Mobike is withdrawing from the Singapore market, the third major bicycle-sharing operator to hit the skids here after oBike and ofo.

"We can confirm that Mobike has submitted a proposal to Singapore LTA (Land Transport Authority) for a managed and orderly withdrawal from the market," said a spokesman for Mobike's owner, Chinese food-delivery giant Meituan Dianping.

The firm did not commit to a date to leave the Singapore market.

The decision to withdraw is part of a plan to "rationalise" Mobike's operations in South-east Asia, the spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday.

"We will work with LTA to explore all options, including the potential to transfer our operations or licence to existing licensees, to minimise the impact to consumers."

Mobike is the largest player in the Singapore bike-sharing scene, with a licence to operate 25,000 bicycles. Its planned exit follows the protracted and problematic failures of oBike and ofo.

oBike abruptly quit the Singapore market in June last year and is currently in liquidation. According to its liquidators, it owes $8.9 million to more than 220,000 deposit holders.

  • The rise and fall of bicycle sharing

  • July 2014: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) issues a request for information to seek industry proposals on how public bicycle sharing can be implemented.

    July 2016: LTA announces plans to pilot a docked bicycle-sharing scheme at Jurong Lake District by the end of 2017, and potentially in Marina Bay, Tampines and Pasir Ris.

    January 2017: oBike and ofo start deploying bikes in Singapore.

    March 2017: Chinese firm Mobike announces its official entry into Singapore. LTA announces that it will not award the Jurong Lake District bicycle-sharing tender due to the emergence of privately funded bike-sharing services.

    April 2017: oBike announces its official launch and says it plans to deploy tens of thousands of bikes.

    January 2018: Bike-sharing firms flourish. For example, oBike registers more than a million active users at this point.

    March 2018: The shared-bike population grows to about 100,000 in Singapore and rampant indiscriminate parking becomes an issue. The authorities introduce a licensing regime and stronger regulations, such as requiring operators to temporarily ban users who repeatedly park indiscriminately.

    June 2018: oBike says it will cease operations immediately in Singapore, citing difficulties in meeting the new regulations.

    October 2018: LTA grants six firms licences to run a combined fleet of 40,500 shared bikes as licensing fees kick in.

    January 2019: Three out of six licensed shared-bike operators fail to take off. GrabWheels surrenders its sandbox licence, Qiqi Zhixiang fails to start operations and ofo breaches multiple regulations.

    February 2019: ofo's bike-sharing licence is suspended after failing to meet LTA's requirements.

    March 2019: Mobike, the largest remaining operator, submits proposal to LTA to leave the market.

Meanwhile, Chinese bike-sharing giant ofo is on its last legs. Its licence was suspended last month for failing to meet LTA's regulatory requirements, and could be cancelled this week if it is still unable to show satisfactory progress.

Some ofo users who complained of disputed charges have been unable to get any response from ofo.

Student Sriram R, 17, who has been using Mobike since 2017, was disappointed by its decision to pull out of Singapore. "I have tried all the different services and I find that Mobike has the best quality, compared with other competitors.

"Services like ofo and Mobike are very useful as I live in the Central Business District, and cycling from place to place is only slightly slower than taking public transport."

Mobike International's head of public relations Steve Milton said its exit would not be a messy one.

"Our team will remain in place while we close our service, all user deposit and prepayments will be refunded in order, and all contracts and payments will be honoured," he said.

Mobike started a deposit-free policy for users in June last year, but Mr Milton said some users may not have reclaimed their deposits.

These users can do so through the Mobike app, or wait to have the deposits automatically refunded to them when Mobike closes.

Monthly pass holders can use Mobike until the passes expire without automatic renewal, he said.

An LTA spokesman confirmed that Mobike applied to surrender its bike-sharing licence on Monday.

Under the Parking Places Act, the licence may be surrendered only with LTA's written consent.

Mobike also withdrew its applications to operate shared e-scooters and to increase its bicycle fleet, said LTA. The firm made the applications just last month.

Its upcoming withdrawal would leave local firms SG Bike and Anywheel as the only viable operators here. The two now operate a combined fleet size of only 4,000 bikes.

Anywheel founder Htay Aung said Meituan has reached out to the firm about taking over Mobike's licence to run 25,000 bikes, and that Anywheel is having internal discussions about the proposal.

 
 
 
 

SG Bike marketing director Benjamin Oh said the firm would keep all options open with regard to the idea of taking over Mobike's operations in Singapore.

Transport experts Park Byung Joon and Walter Theseira told The Straits Times that the core problem for shared-bike firms was the unsustainable business model that relied heavily on rich investors.

Associate Professor Theseira said: "If it turns out that purely commercial bike-sharing services are not viable, we are likely to see a government-subsidised limited trial at some point in the near future.

"But it has to be carefully done in order to establish whether it is worth providing the service even when it loses money."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2019, with the headline 'Mobike exploring options ahead of planned S'pore exit'. Print Edition | Subscribe