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Can Singapore’s oBike Turn the Country into a “Car-lite” Society?

The start-up wants to make cycling an accessible and viable option for commuters

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 11 May 2017

oBike

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

oBike general manager Elgin Ee says that the goal of the bike-sharing company is to help Singapore transform into a “car-lite” society.

According to Ee, since most Singaporean cyclists bike for leisure, they are unlikely to purchase their own bike, as they don’t expect to get much use out of it.

“With the introduction of oBike, we seek to help remove this barrier, opening an alternative travel option for commuters in Singapore. With bicycles located all over Singapore through oBike’s bike share system, [the company] seeks to help commuters overcome the infrequency and occasional unpredictability of feeder buses, while also providing a faster alternative to walking – all in all make cycling more accessible and a more viable travel option,” he says.

He concedes that the bike-sharing market in Singapore is still very much in its infancy, but the company has posted some promising numbers. After rolling out 1,000 bikes in February 2017, they received 500,000 sign-ups by March, and the number of rides has been growing 2-3 times on a consistent week-on-week basis.

oBike charges a rental fee for users, and the company’s main demographic are bicyclists who would use it for commuting.

“oBike targets commuters who are looking for an easily accessible, convenient and eco-friendly mode of transport, especially for those looking to travel shorter distances or during one-way first- and last-mile commuting,” Ee says.

Differentiating oBike from competitors

Ee says that one of the main questions he gets from potential users is what exactly differentiates oBike from competitors. And the answer is the technology. oBike uses smart Bluetooth technology to improve location accuracy on their bicycles.

He says this is a superior approach compared to other bike-sharing companies that don’t use any geo-location services or that use GPS, which has a greater impact on a smartphone’s battery life. “This tends to drain energy faster when the app has been booted up,” Ee says.

The other two selling points are the app’s tracking of total distance, along with calories burned and carbon footprint reduced - “a plus point for the eco- and health-conscious rider,” he notes. And for safety, there is the kinetic running white light on the bike’s front as well as the red light on its back.

To avail of an oBike, users must download the app, sign up, and then search for the nearest bike. The user may reserve their bike while en route and pay a refundable deposit of SG$49 via credit card. Students pay a discounted deposit of SG$19.

Upon finding the bike, the user scans the QR code found on its handle or its rear. “This unlocks the lock on the bike and you may start your journey,” Ee says, adding that users end the trip by parking the bike at a designated bike parking station, and they get a point in oBike credits for each completed trip.

Of course, before buying into oBike, they must first buy into the concept of bike-sharing, if they haven’t already. “To gather more sign ups and to educate new and existing bike-share users on the importance of civic-mindedness and social graciousness, oBike has also collaborated with Tampines Town Council for a pilot “Ride and Roll” programme,” Ee explains.

Under this initiative, Tampines residents are eligible for one-month free service of oBike upon signing up. Together with the Tampines Town Council, oBike will have on-ground demarcations of bike-sharing spaces in high traffic areas, which you can find reflected on your oBike app. The company is currently rolling these out and will finish in June.

As oBike looks forward to the coming year, the company will continue to leverage technology to not only drive adoption, but also improve biking culture.

“In line with our ongoing app enhancements to promote responsible cycling behaviors and social graciousness, we will be rolling out more tech enhancements within our app in the coming months. These enhancements will help to further strengthen the focus on the right bike parking and riding behaviors,” he says.