SINGAPORE: Businessman Greg Choong lives about a kilometre away from Bukit Gombak MRT station. Rather than take the bus to work, he now prefers to use a bicycle from one of the bicycle sharing stations in the area.
"We can ride (the bicycle) to the MRT and back home without having to return the bike to a station," he said. "Our travelling time is usually within 15 minutes ... and the cost of bike sharing is very affordable. It is cheaper than taking a bus."
Mr Choong, who spends about S$0.50 per ride, is one of a growing number of Singaporeans ditching four wheels for two.
“You can see a lot of students riding them to the market, to the MRT stations or to bus stops,“ he said.
This scenario has become increasingly common in other parts of Singapore. Bike-sharing operators have set up stations across the island in recent months. As such, residents now do not need to go to great lengths to rent a bicycle.
Jurong is a case in point, according to Jurong MP Ang Wei Neng, who recently launched a bicycle sharing pilot scheme in the constituency.
“After office hours in the evenings and especially (during) the weekends, I see a lot more families using the bicycles going to the neighbourood centres ... (and) Jurong Lake for leisure cycling,” Mr Ang said.
Bike-sharing operator oBike said it has seen more demand for bicycles in areas like the Central Business District, Buona Vista, Woodlands, Ang Mo Kio, Admiralty and Tampines. On average, its customers ride for about 15 minutes per trip and travel about three kilometres, the company said.
It also found that most cyclists use their bike-sharing service to get from their homes to bus stops or MRT stations and vice versa, according to oBike general manager Elgin Ee.
“The average (usage time) of 15 minutes shows that people do consider bikes as an alternative form of transport – but not for long distances,” Mr Ee told Channel NewsAsia.
CYCLING = THE WAY AHEAD?
In dense urban cities like Singapore, cycling has been touted as the way ahead towards a better transport system.
According to a 2012 survey by the Land Transport Authority, about 1.5 per cent of people in Singapore cycle as part of their daily commute, and authorities have said that they would like to triple this number over the next decade.
But even as more Singaporeans pick bicycles over cars or buses, stories of reckless riding and bad parking have stuck a wrench in the movement. Cases of "indiscriminate parking" and reckless riding have raised the ire of many residents, forcing the hand of authorities.
Mr Ang said that residents have complained about dockless bicycles being parked along the roads, corridors, on staircases and even blocking fire escapes.
"There's plenty of room for improvement,” Mr Ang added. “Especially come June, when the Active Mobility Act comes into the picture. Most of the pedestrian pathways will be considered shared pathways, and this is where the cyclists will have to adhere to some code of conduct."
Currently, bike operators use various credit or demerit systems to encourage good behaviour. However, National University of Singapore transport researcher Prof Lee Der Horng believes that user behaviour is difficult to regulate. "That's why the different operators must come forward, to the frontline to be responsible in the event that a user is actually abusing the system,” said Prof Lee.
The authorities are also playing a part to curb the problem.
As part of a new framework developed by the Land Transport Authority and the 15 PAP Town Councils, operators will be penalised if they do not ensure bikes are properly parked.
Mr Ee said oBike is looking to work with the town councils to avoid causing inconvenience while providing services to the residents.
"Ultimately it's about working hand-in-hand rather than seeing it as an obstruction to our business, or a barrier to us," he added. "We have to look at this issue deeply, whether it's penalising us - then we will penalise the users."
But ultimately, Mr Ang believes it may be too early to put the brakes on bike-sharing as the industry is still in its infancy. And with new rules ahead, both the operators and authorities seem to be on the right path.
“It's only in recent years that we are very seriously promoting cycling as a way of life,” Mr Ang said. “There are many infrastructures that are not built for cycling, so now we have to do retrofitting as well as education. It will take a while, I believe.”
“Rome was not built in one day,” he added. “But we have to start somewhere."