Shared-bicycle operators to be licensed to curb indiscriminate parking

Rental bikes parked indiscriminately near Yishun MRT station on Feb 5, 2018.

SINGAPORE - To tackle the growing problem of shared bicycles being parked indiscriminately, rental operators such as oBike, ofo and MoBike will soon come under a licensing regime.

Through the regulatory framework, the bicycle fleet size that each operator is allowed to have will be reviewed every six months, based on how well they can manage the problem of illegal parking and how often their bicycles are used.

There are an estimated 100,000 dockless shared bicycles here, owned by six operators, but only about half of them are actively used.

Announcing the licensing regime on Monday (March 5), the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said: "The indiscriminate parking of shared bicycles has caused significant social disamenities, despite LTA's efforts to increase parking infrastructure and encourage bicycle-sharing operators to operate responsibly."

The LTA said it will start accepting licence applications by the middle of this year, and the licences will be awarded by the year end.

Once the new licensing regime kicks in later this year (2017), existing operators will be allowed to continue operating for two months, until the application window closes. If applications are submitted, they can continue operations until LTA releases the results of their submissions.

Under the licensing scheme, bike-share operators will be required to share data, including the locations of all their bicycles, with the LTA, and remove indiscriminately parked two-wheelers in a timely manner. A licence fee, the amount which has yet to be decided on, will also likely be imposed.

The authority will also require operators to temporarily ban users who repeatedly park indiscriminately from using the rental services of all operators.

Bike-share operators that do not comply with LTA's standards and conditions will face sanctions, such as financial penalties of up to $100,000, reductions in fleet size, suspension or even the cancellation of their licences.

Bike-share operators debuted in Singapore early last year. As they operate on a dockless system, the bicycles can be rented from and returned to any location, using a mobile app. The six firms are oBike, ofo, Mobike, GBikes, SG Bike and ShareBikeSG.

However, the bicycles have been found to be parked illegally by users, obstructing community spaces and blocking footpaths.

Since the middle of last year, LTA has issued more than 2,100 removal notices and collected about $180,000 in fines and administrative fees from the operators.

To cope with more shared bicycles, the authorities have been creating more parking spaces at MRT stations, bus stops, Housing Board estates and parks.

Rental bikes parked indiscriminately near Yishun MRT station on Feb 5, 2018. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

There are now 174,000 bike-parking spaces. The LTA and public agencies plan to provide 50,000 more by 2020.

LTA will also be installing unique quick response (QR) codes at all public bicycle parking areas from the second half of this year.

Operators will have to ensure their users scan the QR code at the parking area before users are allowed to end their trip.

In October last year, the LTA, town councils and National Parks Board signed a memorandum of understanding to promote the responsible use of shared bicycles and promote good parking behaviour.

The licensing system will be implemented through the Parking Places (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on Monday.

The Bill will be read for the second time later this month and debated in Parliament.

SG Bike marking director Benjamin Oh said that about 10 per cent of all rides end up with bicycles being indiscriminately parked by users. SG Bike now has about 1,500 bicycles with plans to expand to a total of 3,500 in the coming months, Mr Oh said.

Mr Oh said the company will comply with the licensing requirements to help the LTA take better control of the bike sharing scene in Singapore. "We believe that this is a necessary step to help bike sharing grow successfully in Singapore," he added.

Mr Tim Phang, general manager of oBike Singapore, said that while guidelines from authorities are welcome, a licensing regime "places a heavy burden on start-ups, which in turn means that bike sharing users will suffer".

Ofo's head of policy and communications for Southeast Asia, Christopher Hilton, said the company will "closely examine" the proposed regulations and work with the authorities to ensure the framework supports the nascent bike-sharing industry.

Meanwhile, Ms Sharon Meng, country manager of Mobike Singapore, said that since the firm launched operations a year ago, it has continually shared data with the LTA, and will continue to collaborate with local authorities to incentivise good user behaviour.

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