Public bikes thrive in the Lion City

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/13 16:38:39

Chinese bike-sharing companies look toward the Singaporean market

Several bikes provided by a local bike-sharing company park at East Coast Park, Singapore. Photo: CFP

Since the beginning of this year, ofo and Mobike, two Chinese bike-sharing services providers, have continued expanding their businesses internationally. While these companies have succeeded in the shared bike industry in China, their luck may be tested in Singapore due to competition from homegrown rival, oBike, vandalism and differences in foreign city characteristics.


A shared bikes addict, surnamed Xu, recently traveled to Singapore and surprisingly found familiar orange and yellow bikes in the Lion City. Living in Beijing, he uses bike-sharing apps - Mobike and ofo - almost every day.

"But with the apps I use in China, I found out, disappointedly, that I couldn't scan and ride it [the bike] away there [in Singapore], as they have different app versions in the Apple Store overseas," he said.

Though they offer different versions of apps to download, bike-sharing services providers in Singapore are encountering the same issues dealt with by their Chinese counterparts in China, such as vandalism and securing designated bike parking areas.

"When you walk in the city center, you can see Mobike's orange bikes were in some non-parking areas," Xu told the Global Times on Monday.

Ofo, the Beijing-based bike-sharing operator, organizes promotional events that invite local bike users. Incentivized by the chance of winning a one-year free ride reward and vouchers worth between S$2 ($1.45) to S$20, users are encouraged to report bike vandalism, according to ofo's posts on Facebook.

Bike race to Singaporean market

Similar to how Chinese dockless bike-sharing start-ups became popularized on university campuses in Beijing, the phenomenon has also become prevalent on university campuses in Singapore, such as the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University - a sign of the younger generation becoming more willing to embrace new things and new modes of transport.

Ofo has put more than a thousand of its typical yellow bikes into the Singaporean market, a city-state with a population of over 5.5 million. Mobike, ofo's major rival in China, also entered the Singaporean market in March. According to a Mobike statement sent to the Global Times earlier in March, the company initially targeted high-demand areas including Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations and the populated residential areas like Pasir Ris and Tampines, areas where workers and students travel between their homes and nearby subway or bus stations.

Over 90 percent of shared bikes are provided by oBike, the first homegrown stationless smart bike-sharing company in Singapore, a Chinese Weibo user, Dangui, who has been living in Singapore for over five years, told the Global Times on Monday.

"Fewer ofo bikes could be seen on the street, and Mobike's bikes have only been seen on the Internet," he said.

He noted that it is very convenient to use shared bikes  in the proximity of subway stations and residential areas and that oBike charges S$0.5 per 15 minutes whereas ofo charges S$2. "They offer many free rides now in the purpose of promotion," Dangui added.

People usually ride shared bikes to MRT stations in the Garden City. During the weekend, many enjoy riding them in parks, he said.

"I think ofo's yellow bike is pretty, but I could not find many on its app," he remarked. 

Singapore-based oBike sees the benefits of being local and having a local team on the ground, Elgin Ee, general manager of oBike, told the Global Times on Monday. "For example, we recently launched our lighter and more ergonomic Smart Generation bicycles following feedback from the public," he said. Ee further noted that oBike is now focusing on the Singaporean market by working closely with the local authorities to mark out more designated public bike-parking areas.

New trend

Angela Low, a student at the NUS, told the Global Times on Monday that she is a regular user of oBike and Mobike and the idea of bike sharing is "pretty new" in Singapore. So far, it is inexpensive because there are many promotional deals that provide people with a certain amount of free rides every day.

"I actually prefer Mobikes because they look nicer and are always equipped with baskets. They're also very light and easy to ride," she said.

Still, some residents in Singapore have not tried out shared bikes yet. During a recent trip back to her home city of Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province, a Chinese woman living in Singapore, surnamed Hou, said she noticed that shared bikes are now everywhere in China.

"They are placed in residential areas in Singapore, but not many people use them," she said, explaining that this is because Singapore stays warm the whole year round due to its tropical climate.

"People will get really hot if they ride during the daytime. Plus, the public transportation services here, like MRT, are very convenient," Hou said. She has been living in the city-state for a decade.

"With the EZ-Link card [pass for public transportation], I can take both subway and bus. Travel from the city center to Singapore Changi Airport only costs S$1.5, which is very cheap," tourist Xu said, stating that as the city is small, shared bikes are not as in demand as in Chinese cities.

As an emerging new phenomenon in Singapore, shared bikes pose some problems, such as users abusing and destroying bicycles, stealing them and spray painting over them to pass them off as their own.

"Ofo bikes were the most abused ones at the beginning because, unlike the other two [Mobike and oBike], users didn't have to pay a deposit for ofo," Low said, adding the Chinese firm had now learned a lesson from this and had recently started to charge S$39 deposit per user.

Low added that she sometimes finds it ''annoying'' that oBike users could ride for just five minutes, but are charged for 15 minutes as it is the company's minimum spend. "I think it would be so much more reasonable and effective if the bike-sharing platform charged by the minute, rather than by fixed chunks of time," she said.

Aggressive strategy?

As Chinese shared bikes flood the streets of Singapore, local bike-sharing firms like oBike have been confronted with rising competition since the beginning of this year. However, tapping into foreign markets is not an aggressive corporate strategy for Chinese tech start-ups, Wang Chenxi, an analyst with Beijing-based market consultancy Analysys International told the Global Times on Monday.

"With accelerating urbanization, shared bikes offer more transportation options, which is an unavoidable trend in cities," she said, noting that without Chinese players, foreign markets would see its own homegrown sharing-bike firms burn out.

Challenges remain in several aspects including possible regulations on shared bikes and different user experiences.

"For example, in foreign cities, firms cannot put a large quantity of shared bikes into the market, which would be banned by regulators. So they put in 1,000 units at first and managed them well, which is different from the way bike-sharing start-ups expand in China," Wang noted.

Local authorities in Singapore have been reserving certain parking areas for bicycles. Located at areas such as Bedok, Loyang, Sembawang and City Hall, some new bike-parking areas will provide approximately 200 additional bike-parking spaces, Singapore's Land Transport Authority said in an e-mail sent to the Global Times.

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