13,000 shared bikes expected by end-2019 as Anywheel takes on expansion

13,000 shared bikes expected by end-2019 as Anywheel takes on expansion

Singapore bike-sharing firm Anywheel is one of two operators who intend to expand their operations, even as several players have left the market. Its plans include growing its fleet to 10 times its current size. One analyst, however, says these operators should proceed with caution. Gwyneth Teo with more.

SINGAPORE: Local firm Anywheel is set to expand its fleet of shared bikes and it hopes to have a total of 10,000 bicycles on the road by the end of the year. 

This could take the total number of shared bicycles in Singapore to 13,000, including the existing 3,000-strong fleet belonging to SG Bike, the only other bike-sharing operator here after the exit of companies like oBike, ofo and Mobike

Anywheel's bike count at the moment is fewer than 1,000 and the rides are mostly located in Punggol. Its founder and CEO Htay Aung told CNA that the company will be rolling out 2,000 to 3,000 bicycles in the Central Business District in July. 

Anywheel intends to expand “area by area - north, south, east, west", said Mr Htay Aung. “We hope to meet the demand of all the enquiries we're having and start deploying to areas where we’re having high demand.”

Anywheel received its full licence from the Land Transport Authority in April, allowing it to operate 10,000 bicycles. Before this, it could only operate a maximum fleet size of 1,000 under a regulatory sandbox licence awarded in September last year.

READ: "The struggle is temporary" - SG Bike founders predict bright future for bike-sharing

Mr Htay Aung said the company did not put in the order for its new bicycles until it was awarded the full licence, which is why it can only scale up its fleet next month.

“All this producing of the bicycle and the shipment from our manufacturer, it takes about two to three months," he said. 

The bicycles come with a high-tech lock designed in-house by the company to help it manage the fleet. It gives off signals that help Anywheel’s operations team locate bicycles.

“With the previous batch of locks, which many operators used, if we keep generating live data of the bicycle, the battery (runs down) very fast and (it) will be disconnected from the back-end,” said Mr Htay Aung.

“We improved the connectivity by using a better SIM card reader," he added. "We also made changes to our battery -we moved to a new supplier with a much more stable battery life, which allows us to generate as much location data feedback as we want."

Being able to locate its bicycles more accurately will help Anywheel prevent indiscriminate parking of its devices, which has been the biggest public gripe about shared bicycles in the last few years.

Authorities imposed regulations on the industry last year, responding to calls from the public to do more to stem inappropriate parking of - at one point - more than 100,000 shared bicycles in Singapore. 

READ: Wheel woes - The rise and fall of Singapore's bike-sharing industry

READ: Why Singapore has yet to become a cycling paradise - and it's not about the heat

Six operators eventually received permits in September, but only the two remain today.

Anywheel is confident that there is still demand for shared bicycles in Singapore even as others have left the market.

“Every time a company (left), we received a lot of emails, a lot of enquiries saying … can we come and deploy in their area because those companies have left,” said Mr Htay Aung. “We can also track the traction of our application downloads in app stores. Every time those companies went down, our downloads surged significantly.”

The company intends to meet demand by applying to expand its fleet to 30,000 during the next round of licensing.

Mr Htay Aung said his main priority is to train the team to handle the 10,000 bikes under the current licence. “This is the first time they are handling the 10,000 fleet size. So I want to make sure they are well-trained by the end of this year,” said Mr Htay Aung. 

Anywheel is also pursuing regional expansion plans, hoping to bring its shared bikes and its e-scooter offering JustScoot to Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Australia in August.

COEXISTING WITH THE COMPETITION

Local firm SG Bike also has plans to expand but did not reveal further details to CNA. It operates its 3,000 bicycles in the eastern and northern parts of Singapore.

Associate Professor Walter Theseira, an urban transport economist from the Singapore University of Social Sciences, said that the challenge for the two firms will be in picking the right places to expand to as they will no doubt find the same locations attractive.

READ: Lessons from the fall of once-mighty bike-sharing giants, a commentary

"Obviously if you've located a part of Singapore where there's enough demand to support bike-sharing, your competitor will also realise this is a good business opportunity,” he said. “The challenge they'll face is how to coexist because they will have the temptation, just as the old bike-sharing companies did, to put more bikes onto the street.

“But the more bikes you put there, the less utilised each of your bikes is going to become. And once you start doing that, you'll (go) very quickly down the path towards no profit and operating losses,” he added.

He also said that the two operators will have to show that such businesses can turn profits.

“Today it's already been proven that saturating the market and acquiring a large amount of market share will never make you any money. In fact, there's a lot of doubt today about whether even putting a limited number of bikes in the market will make you money on a per bike basis,” said Dr Theseira.

“If (the bike sharing companies) can't prove that, then they're basically dead. That's why I think they're a lot more cautious today."

Source: CNA/hs(hm)

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