Bicycles have been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father found success back in the 1980s with a bicycle rental business, setting up shop in various locations such as East Coast Park.
In 2015, my father and I discovered dockless bicycle sharing. We took a research trip to Shanghai and were amazed by all the shared bicycles on the street. About a year later, the same concept was introduced in Singapore.
The industry grew quite rapidly here, largely due to the support of the government. Within a short time, there were about 200,000 dockless bicycles throughout the island – not bad for a small country of just 5.6 million people.
I believe that the government was keen to explore how dockless bikes could help them towards their goal of being a car-lite society by 2040. For example, it was recently announced that over 40km of new cycling paths will be completed over the next five years, in areas such as Geylang and Woodlands. By 2030, it’s expected we will have over 700km of cycling paths connecting all of Singapore.
However, the dockless bicycle sharing industry has faced many hurdles. Now, just three licensed operators, including SG Bike, remain. Indiscriminate parking bicycles was the major issue behind why many companies exited Singapore. When bike sharing was first advertised, you could rent and park anywhere – this convenience was a big selling point. But without proper regulations in place, things got messy. In 2018, firm licensing measures were introduced, and a lot of the bigger players found it hard to comply quickly enough. They incurred huge costs and ceased operations. SG Bike was still quite small and nimble; being local also gave us deeper cultural insight, so we survived.
“I think to grow a more robust cycling community, there is a need to be open to innovation”
Ultimately, bike sharing needs to be convenient and accessible to people across demographics. One of the biggest challenges we have is teaching people who are not tech-savvy how to use the system. When we started, we had many ideas to encourage these individuals to use share bicycles. Instead of just being able to scan QR codes on bikes with smartphones, we were working on hooking up our bikes to EZ-Link (public transport) cards. While this didn’t meet government regulations, I think to grow a more robust cycling community, there is a need to be open to innovation.
The last decade has been an exciting time for transport all over the world. Technological advances have brought us disruptors such as Uber and Grab. Now, we have automated cars, bike sharing, scooter sharing, shuttle-bus hailing and more. In order for cycling to be truly embraced in Singapore, we shouldn’t sell it as a replacement for Grab, GOJEK or the MRT. Rather, cycling should complement these modes of transport.
Illustrations by Kouzou Sakai
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This article was originally published in the July 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine