National bike sharing plan could come to a halt

The brakes could be applied on a planned national bicycle sharing scheme, in light of the recent emergence of private firms that offer similar services.

Second Transport Minister Ng Chee Meng yesterday said the Government is assessing whether to go ahead with the scheme. He told the House the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is carefully studying bids for the bike share tender, which was called last year.

"We will also assess whether to proceed with our plans and whether to extend them to other towns like Ang Mo Kio, given that ofo and Obike are already rolling out their services independently of LTA's tender," he said.

In the first two months of the year, ofo and Obike have made thousands of bikes available for rent around the island. Both companies have said they plan to expand rapidly.

Their systems do not require users to return the machines at fixed stations - a standard feature of bike-share schemes worldwide. Instead, users unlock the bikes with their mobile phones and can return them at any bicycle parking area.

The eventual fleet size of both players is projected to dwarf that of the LTA, which is slated to launch by the end of this year with a fleet of about 2,330 bicycles in Jurong Lake District, Marina Bay, Tampines and Pasir Ris. The national scheme is expected to follow the traditional bike-share model, where users have to rent and return bikes at more than 210 specialised docking stations.

The emergence of Obike and ofo prompted Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) to ask what impact the private companies will have on the national bike sharing scheme.

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Replying during the debate on the Transport Ministry's budget, Mr Ng said the schemes offered by the private players offer advantages, such as lower infrastructure costs and more convenience. However, they also carry the potential downside of indiscriminate parking. "It is still not clear yet whether these new systems or the traditional ones will work better for Singapore," he said.

During the debate, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan also outlined plans for Singapore to go car-lite by 2030, and to make walking, cycling and taking public transport "easier and more enjoyable for everyone". He announced that Tampines would be the second model walking and cycling town after Ang Mo Kio.

Trunk cycling routes connecting Tampines to neighbouring towns, and to workplaces such as Changi Business Park and Singapore Expo, will be built, he said. He added that road crossings will be improved, footpaths widened, and areas around bus stops redesigned to boost safety.

"We are determined to make cycling and the use of personal mobility devices (PMDs) pleasant and safe," said Mr Khaw.

This issue of safety, particularly that of pedestrians on footpaths, was flagged by three MPs - Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang) and Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan.

Mr Tan said footpaths should "always be sufficiently wide" to allow for safe shared use between cyclists and pedestrians. In response, Mr Ng said the LTA will widen narrow footpaths with high foot traffic, from current widths of 1.5m or less to at least 1.8m. He added that the LTA would bolster its enforcement efforts against errant cyclists and PMD users, using CCTVs and body cameras.

"We need the cooperation of all users in order to make shared spaces safe. We need to develop a culture of gracious sharing, through education efforts," he said.

This article was first published on Mar 09, 2017.
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