Dockless bike-sharing has long been touted as the ideal complement, alongside Singapore’s growing public transportation infrastructure, to the country’s bid to be a car-lite nation by 2030. They are affordable, convenient alternatives to the cars that we have become so dependent on.
Shared bikes have only been introduced on our shores in January, but the industry has been growing exponentially ever since. Today, there are at least three significant bike-sharing companies out and about, their brightly coloured bicycles a regular feature in all acres of spaces, from city centres, to neighbourhoods, to the more obscure corners of the country.
This initiative has proven to be especially successful as a first-and-last-mile solution; users typically cycle on one of these bikes from their homes to bus stops and train stations, and then from those stations to their workplaces. However, that these bikes are so convenient also makes them ideal for casual weekend rides. With a long list of substantial benefits that range from convenience to health, it sounds like a match made in heaven for a country that is as landlocked and densely populated as Singapore, right?
Unfortunately, there are two sides to a coin, and where you see genuine appreciation for bike-sharing services, so too, does an undesirable side of human beings emerge.
Just three months later, in April, a disturbing trend was starting to emerge. The neighbourhoods were rife with reports of shared bikes being left strewn in the middle of pathways, hogged in private property, or even stripped of essential parts, like seats and wheels.
As the months roll by, acts like those only became more atrocious. One of the more notable incidents was that of a teenager throwing and trashing an ofo bike. If that wasn’t bizarre enough, get this: in June, yet another teenager was arrested for hurling an ofo bike from the 30th floor of the HDB block that he was living on. Not all culprits are youths who might not have known better – a 47-year-old man with no reported history of mental illness was jailed for nine weeks for committing the same act. To top off the absurdity of it all, an oBike was spotted, almost fully submerged in water, in the canal at Jalan Rajah, just a few weeks ago.
These stories of abuse –albeit less extreme as the aforementioned incidents— are not uncommon. A quick scan around your neighbourhood would probably yield sightings of shared bikes that have either been irresponsibly ditched, damaged, or stripped bare. Mothership’s Belmont Lay, in response to the string of events, wrote: “There’s probably a reason why things are always so expensive in Singapore. Because when it’s free, there will be people who will treat it like shit.” I can understand his sentiments.
What’s going on? For years now, the lack of graciousness amongst the Singaporean society has been a concern. In fact, Singa the Lion, our mascot for graciousness, had resigned a few years ago, citing his fatigue as the main reason why. Values like responsibility, patience, kindness, just to name a few, are often found wanting in our actions. I find it absurd that for a modern metropolis, signs on public transportation urging passengers to move in are still required. Perhaps the bike-sharing companies should have paid attention to our rampant situation with supermarket trolleys thrown aside willy-nilly before thinking that a setting up shop here would be a good idea. And, let’s not forget the ongoing war between cyclists and motorists on the right to use our shared roads.
The point is, many of us simply aren’t responsible enough, even with our possessions, and even if we were, it’s because they have been purchased with a substantial amount of money. Shared bikes are dirt cheap, so no one cares about their conditions. This is a stark contrast to the Dutch community for instance, where bikes are properly stowed and maintained, where motorists and cyclists live in harmony; not one vehicle honked at me during my rides in Amsterdam.
Here, I was part of a peloton that was abruptly cut open by a taxi driver in a hurry; here, I have been on the receiving end of dangerous overtakes, despite being as far left to the lane as I possibly could (apparently this is a sign that it’s okay for motorists to pass me with just inches to spare). Call me biased, but this selfish, irresponsible attitude on and off the roads is the main reason why bike sharing may just meet a nasty end in Singapore.
It is often said that when a system fails, it is usually down to the people who run it.
Were ofo et al aware of all these issues? Perhaps; perhaps they overestimated our ability to take good care of their bicycles, or to be gracious enough to think beyond ourselves. But, all I know is that if they were to ever succeed here, something has to change, and it starts with us, unearthing an unpleasant truth that we have kept hidden under the rug for far too long.