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Essay

Shared bikes are a mess

By Tan Ying Zhen

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Wherever you go in Singapore, be it glitzy tourist spots or modest residential neighbourhoods, you'll see orange or yellow bicycles — here, there and almost everywhere.

These brightly coloured two-wheelers belong to bicycle-sharing firms. The three major players are oBike, Mobike and ofo, each of which serve at least a dozen countries. For example, ofo has 10 million bikes in more than 250 cities worldwide. Mobike launched a service in Sapporo last August.

To use a shared bicycle, you download the company's app to your smartphone. Find a bike, then use the app to unlock it by entering the bike's number or scanning its QR code. Ride for as long as you wish, and to anywhere you want. When you are done, use the app to end the ride, thereby locking the bike. You can also use the app to look for bikes.

Typically, users pay a refundable deposit of about 50 Singaporean dollars (¥4,000) to start using shared bikes. The cost of each ride depends on the company. It might be 50 cents (¥40) for 15 minutes, or 50 cents for an entire ride regardless of duration. Some operators offer discount codes or free weekend rides.

Unlike traditional bike-sharing schemes, these bicycles don't have specific docking spots for users to return them. In other words, users can leave them anywhere for the next rider to use. You can imagine how convenient this is, but it has had unpleasant consequences. Some bikes end up in weird places like canals. Many have been spotted blocking pathways. Even more are left out in the sun and rain.

In short, the bikes have become an eyesore and a public nuisance.

The operators say they have been trying to solve the problem. They've promised to remove inconveniently parked or damaged bikes within a day.

Unfortunately, the situation doesn't seem to be improving. It has been more than a year since these companies launched their bicycle-sharing services, and shared bikes are still being parked haphazardly.

To ensure that bikes are parked within designated areas, the land transport authorities now require the firms to introduce geofencing, a technology that detects whether a bike enters or leaves a specially marked area. Users may get points deducted if they don't park the bikes within specific spots. If they have no more points left, they won't be able to use the shared bikes anymore. Conversely, parking in approved locations will help users to earn points.

Time will tell if this carrot-and-stick approach will work. Meanwhile, ongoing public education efforts are crucial in shaping user behaviour. Perhaps everyone can also play a part by helping to shift inappropriately parked bikes, and speaking up if we chance upon inconsiderate behaviour.

シェア自転車

シンガポールで昨年急速に広がった自転車シェアサービス。所定の場所に返還する必要がない利便性が魅力だが、一方で、あちこちに乗り捨てられた自転車が社会問題になっている。

The Japan Times ST: March 9, 2018

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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2018年5月25日号    試読・購読   デジタル版
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