Bike-sharing in Singapore: Mobike, oBike and ofo put to the test

Now that the plan for a government-led bike-sharing scheme has been scrapped, it is time to take a closer look at the three private companies which have set up shop here. THE NEW PAPER tests Mobike, oBike and ofo

Two days after the latest bike-sharing platform, Mobike, launched here, the Government announced it would scrap its plan for a national bike-sharing scheme.

The Land Transport Authority, which had already attracted tenders for the scheme, said on Friday, March  24, that it has “reassessed” its plan as the three private companies, Mobike, oBike and ofo, are looking to roll out “many thousands” of bicycles over the next two years.

The companies said they are actively working with partners so that their bikes can be parked at public racks, after the East Coast-Fengshan Town Council recently objected to bikes being parked at its public racks for “rental business”.

There are teething problems – Mobike’s GPS led our reporters on a wild goose chase for bikes around the island, and some ofo bikes we found could not be unlocked using the app.

How do these services compare with one another? We find out.

OBike

EASE OF RENTAL AND PAYMENT

The service asks for a $49 deposit, but students get a discounted rate of $19.

Payment was simple, with the app accepting either PayPal and credit or debit cards.

Bikes are widely available at designated bike parking areas islandwide and I easily located them through the in-app GPS.

oBike gives users the option of reserving a bike for 10 minutes. All I had to do to begin cycling was to scan the QR code.

Rating: 4/5


TNP PHOTOS: PHYLLICIA WANG, JONATHAN LEE

RIDING THE BIKE

oBike seems more suited for recreational use on flat paths. The bike is rather large and heavy, so cycling on narrow or crowded paths is a challenge.

The lack of gears on the bike makes it near impossible to ride up slopes, and not all bikes I saw were equipped with baskets and lights.

Rating: 2/5

EASE OF RETURN

Returning the bike was a matter of parking it at a designated public bike parking area and turning the bike lock on the back wheel to let the app know that the session is over.

oBike also employs a credit system, where demerit points are given to users who break such rules. A bad credit score affects the cost of your ride.

Rating: 5/5

VALUE FOR MONEY

At $0.50 per 15 minutes, oBike’s pricing is fairly competitive.

Promotions are available – referring a friend gives both of you a $3 ride coupon.

Rating: 5/5

OVERALL

The software is relatively seamless, but the ride itself is lacking.

The oBike’s clumsy design makes for an uncomfortable ride up slopes, something even the attractive price-point cannot overcome. I would opt for a traditional bike with gears from a bike-rental shop.

Rating: 4/5

– ALYSHA CHANDRA

ofo

EASE OF RENTAL AND PAYMENT

Unlike its competitors, ofo does not have a GPS system. I had to visit several MRT stations before I found an ofo bike.

Rating: Nil

RIDING THE BIKE

The gear chains were oiled but not greasy, and the bike seat had ample space for me.

But the front handle and adjustable seat of the bike shifted whenever the bike experienced a significant bump.

ofo bikes offer three gear changes as opposed to the usual single gear bikes their competitors offer. Do not get your hopes up too high because these bikes are not built for speed.

Rating: 3/5


TNP PHOTOS: PHYLLICIA WANG, JONATHAN LEE

EASE OF RETURN

The return of the bike was simple. ofo’s return policy states that the bicycle should be parked in a safe location where bicycle parking is permitted in accordance with the local traffic rules, for use by the next person.

You end the trip by pressing a button on the app, and manually lock the wheel using a lever.

The return was far more pleasant than the rental.

Rating: 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY

The pricing for ofo will be $0.50 per trip, but the rides are free for now.

Rating: 5/5

OVERALL

ofo bikes are wallet-friendly, and they provide users with a decent riding experience.

But it was so difficult to find one that it wasn’t worth the time and effort.

Rating: 3/5

– JONATHAN LEE, ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFIQ ROSLAN

Mobike

EASE OF RENTAL AND PAYMENT

The Mobike app, available on Apple and Android devices, is easy to download.

There is a refundable $49 deposit and the Mobike Wallet can be topped up using a credit or debit card.

Locating the bike is meant to be easy using the app, which also allows you to reserve one for up to 15 minutes. But as we reported last week, eight out of 10 times, the bikes could not be found at their shown locations.

Rating: 2/5


TNP PHOTOS: PHYLLICIA WANG, JONATHAN LEE

RIDING THE BIKE

The Mobikes are light and the attached basket is handy. The built-in headlights and reflectors are helpful for late-night rides. But the current crop of Mobikes do not allow for the seat to be adjusted and they do not have gears.

Rating: 3/5

EASE OF RETURN

Mobikes can be returned at any public bike parking areas, such as those around MRT stations and HDB void decks. When a latch on the lock near the wheel is pulled, the app recognises that the ride is completed.

To discourage irresponsible bike behaviour, Mobike has a credit system that awards points for each ride, but it also deducts points for irresponsible parking or usage.

Rating: 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY

Mobike charges $1 for every 30 minutes of use. Each time I top up, I get a number of free rides (as long as the ride is under 30 minutes), encouraging me to continue biking.

Rating: 3/5

OVERALL

Lighter and faster than its competitors here, Mobike has the potential to become the better option once the app instructions and GPS are fully optimised for Singapore use and usage charges become more flexible.

Rating: 3/5

– GWEN CHEN

Who’s Choosing Bike Share Over the Bus?

New research looks at the effect of Citi Bike docks appearing along MTA routes.

“We both had this research idea separately,” says Campbell, who recently completed a dissertation about the unintended long-term impacts of transportation. Brakewood, meanwhile, was working on a journal article that showed real-time bus information in New York led to a 2 percent increase in bus ridership. After they both queried the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for data, the agency connected them with each other. “It was a really natural collaboration,” Campbell says.

Number of bike-share docks within a quarter-mile of the bus routes studied. (Campbell and Brakewood)

The researchers saw the before-and-after nature of Citi Bike’s rollout in a specific part of New York City as a perfect research opportunity. “It’s difficult to have this type of natural experiment,” Campbell says. “It lent itself to studying this and quantifying this in a way that we hadn’t been able to rigorously do before.”

The most common way of determining the impact of bike share on travel habits is to ask users. Surveys in Montreal, Washington, D.C., and the Twin Cities cited in the journal article show that up to 47 percent of bike-share users reported reducing their bus usage, but up to 14 percent said they ended up using the bus more. For some trips, it seems, bike share and transit are complements, while in other cases they are competitors.

Citi Bike queries its members on a regular basis, including a survey involving 645 members at the end of April, says Dani Simons, spokesperson for Citi Bike parent company Motivate. Asked how they would have made their most recent Citi Bike trip if bike share did not exist, 5.8 percent said they would have gone by bus, Simons says, while 8.3 percent would have taken a taxi or for-hire car like Uber.

Motivate does not make this survey data available to the public or to researchers, however, so Campbell and Brakewood had to find a different way to measure the impact of bike share on bus ridership.

Citi Bike posts detailed usage data on its website, as required by its contract with the city and local law. The public data allowed Campbell and Brakewood to track the location and size of each bike-share station, in addition to the number of trips from each station.

To gauge bus ridership, the researchers used detailed stats from the MTA. The data included the daily number of bus trips per route, split by the number of trips paid using the full fare or a reduced fare for seniors and the disabled.

With the data in hand, Campbell and Brakewood to set up their natural experiment, taking into account as many of the complex factors at work on New York City’s streets as they could.

To measure the impact of bike share on bus ridership, the researchers divided bus routes in Manhattan and Brooklyn into two groups: one with, and another without, a bike-share station within a quarter-mile. Some bus lines, however, only have bike share along a small portion of their route, so they were ranked in two additional ways: one measuring the number of bike-share docks within a quarter-mile, and another measuring the number of daily bike-share trips from those docks.

But Campbell and Brakewood didn’t just compare different bus routes; they also compared different types of riders on the same routes to further isolate the bike-share effect. Stats from Citi Bike and New York’s metropolitan planning organization show that people who are over age 65 or those with disabilities—two groups eligible for reduced MTA fares—are far less likely to ride bikes than the rest of the population. So it’s notable that the researchers found a drop in full-fare rides on routes near bike share, compared to the change in reduced-fare trips.

The research, which studied a period before the subway extension to Hudson Yards opened, takes into account the expansion of bike lanes and changes in bus service, like the introduction of Select Bus Service, during the study period. The model also considered other factors, such as the increasing usage of Boro Taxis and for-hire vehicles like Uber.

Finally, to make sure that the decline in bus ridership is actually correlated with the introduction of bike share, the researchers also conducted a “placebo” analysis by running the model a year before Citi Bike actually opened. Because the “placebo” did not have the same effect as the actual opening of Citi Bike in 2013, Campbell and Brakewood are confident that the introduction of bike share had a real impact on bus trips.

No matter how they sliced and diced the data, the researchers found that the introduction of bike share coincided with a reduction in bus ridership.

There was a 2.42 percent drop in bus trips associated with every thousand bike-share docks. Controlling for the expansion of bike lanes, the drop is smaller, at 1.69 percent, meaning that some bus riders could be hopping on their own bicycles instead of Citi Bike. Either way, the research finds a reduction between 12,600 and 18,100 bus trips a day after the introduction of bike share—a huge amount, considering that Citi Bike averaged a total 26,000 trips a day during the study period.

Campbell and Brakewood acknowledge that there’s room for more fine-tuning. They did not take into account changes in land use, population, economic activity, fares, and subway service. There’s also room to better calibrate for the growth of ride-hailing services, as granular data on for-hire trips has become available from the city’s taxi regulator.

They’d also like to survey New Yorkers about bike share, and learn more about how the introduction of bike share changes the transportation decisions of people people who aren’t bike-share members. “A great area for future research is to do a survey that includes both members and non-members. That would help us understand how people are getting around the city,” Campbell says. “Working with Motivate would be a wonderful way to learn more about it.”

As transit advocates and agencies increasingly focus on the basics of running fast, frequent and reliable bus service, the researchers hope to contribute one piece to solving the puzzle of falling bus ridership.

“Overall, not just in New York but also in many other major cities, we are seeing decreases in bus ridership,” Brakewood says. “Bike share is one contributor of many.”

But buses and bike share are two efficient, sustainable modes of transportation that shouldn’t be pitted against each other, Campbell adds. “This isn’t necessarily bad for public transit systems,” she says. “Instead of talking about them as competitors, the more useful conversation is about how they interact.”

Paris: Here’s how the Velib’ bike share is set to change

Paris: Here's how the Velib' bike share is set to change
Wondering what your trips around Paris will look like now the popular bike-sharing scheme has changed hands? We’re here to tell you.
The famed Velib’ bike-sharing scheme is set to move from JCDecaux to the Smoovengo consortium led by Montpellier-based bike-sharing company Smoove.
Here are some important changes set for 2018 that every Velib’er should know:
1. The price will (very likely) go up
As predicted by Le Parisien newspaper earlier this year, the price of using the Vélib’ is very likely to rise. However, the tariffs will not be confirmed until the autumn when a price hike is voted on.
The basic subscription of €29 with the first 30 minutes of each journey free “doesn’t reflect reality,” president of Vélib’ Métropole Marie-Pierre de la Gontrie, told the paper. She also confirmed that the increased tariffs would be moderate to avoid losing the 300,000 current subscription holders who will be automatically enrolled in the new scheme.
While the Vélib scheme was not originally supposed to cost the public a penny, the auditors found that in 2013, the total bill came to €16 million. Paris City Hall has since confirmed that it forks out around €15 million a year, according to reports in the French media.
In the past, current operator JCDecaux was accused of not being transparent when it came to its financial reports.
2. They’ll be more modern
CEO of Smoove, Laurent Mercat has been keen to highlight the technology that will be available when his company takes over.
With 30 percent of the new fleet electrically-operated and offering Wifi, the scheme which is fast-approaching its tenth birthday is set to make a step into the future.
The move will also help battle the common problem of bike stations in Montmartre, Montparnasse and Buttes Chaumont remaining empty for long periods of time as users use them to cycle downhill but rarely use them to slog up Parisian hills.
3. It will be easier to get to the suburbs 
Currently 20 suburbs around Paris take part in the Vélib’ scheme and 40 more will have the chance to join in time for the start of the 2018 contract. Other suburbs around Paris will be able to join the scheme later during the company’s 2018-2032 contract for a participation fee of €10,000 per station.
Temporary bike stations will also be set up for certain large-scale events such as music festivals Rock-en-Seine and Solidays.
4. A bike you can depend on 
By updating the bikes Smoove plans to reduce vandalism to affect only 15 percent, a figure which falls in line with the company’s current fleet of 20,000 bikes, reported Le Parisien.
This falls well below the current vandalism figures which see above 70 percent of bikes damaged each year.
The new bikes will have a locking cable integrated into the handle bar and a GPS-tracking system to prevent damage.
Theft and vandalism have been a major scourge on the scheme since its launch in 2007. Around 19,000 are stolen each year and while the majority are found, around a quarter of those recovered are so badly damaged they have to be destroyed.
JCDecaux has claimed that €1.5 million of the total of the €15 million amount the Vélib’ system costs Parisians each year is made up of vandalism repair.
And happily something that won’t change…
5. A smooth handover
During the handover, the Vélib’ bikes will be available although the number on hand will decrease.
Between January and March 2018 the two companies will execute a “well orchestrated” plan, Smoove CEO Mercat assured Le Parisien, as JCDecaux removes its 1,200 stations. Smoove will have 50 percent of its stations operational by January 2018.