SINGAPORE: Undergraduate Justin Phua feels a slight twinge of guilt whenever he parks his ofo bicycle near some benches at a park connector in front of Kembangan MRT station.
The small space right across the road from the train station is packed with about 50 bicycles daily because commuters like him park there before rushing to catch the next train.
“That space is not a proper parking spot but we do it anyway for convenience. It is meant for residents who exercise or walk their dogs. But parking here saves me time,” said the 23-year-old, wiping beads of perspiration off his forehead.
However, Mr Phua is aware that his days of parking these bicycles at non-designated areas are numbered because of a new licensing framework which will soon kick in.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has set a Jul 7 deadline for bike-sharing firms to submit applications for a licence to operate in public places or cease operations.
Those who submit them will have their applications evaluated and licence awarded by September.
The move followed the passage in May of the Parking Places (Amendment) Bill, a piece of legislation that was aimed at tackling the indiscriminate parking of shared bicycles.
The licensing framework requires operators to ensure that shared bike users scan the unique QR code at the parking location as proof of proper parking before they can end their trip. Users who park indiscriminately will continue to be charged, until they return the bicycles to a designated parking space.
PENALISING USERS WHO PARK INDISCRIMINATELY
Five bike-sharing firms – Mobike, ofo, oBike, SG Bike and Anywheel – confirmed to Channel NewsAsia as of Jun 22 that they will be submitting their applications before the LTA deadline.
oBike later announced that it would shut operations in Singapore from Jun 25, citing difficulties in meeting the new LTA requirements.
Two of these operators - ofo and SG Bike - confirmed that users of their shared bikes will incur extra costs if they park indiscriminately.
ofo said users who “end their trips in areas deemed to be indiscriminate” will incur “financial penalties”.
“We are working with LTA to ensure this government mandated fine is implemented in a sensible fashion that takes into account the needs of bike share users and does not deter users from using this efficient environmentally friendly affordable transport option,” said the company, which has a current fleet size of 70,000.
SG Bike, told Channel NewsAsia that “it needs” to charge users an additional rental fee for each instance of indiscriminate parking.
However, the firm added that users who commit the offence will be given a “grace period” to unlock their bicycles and park it within the designated areas.
Mr Phua, who uses the ofo service four times daily, admitted that he will probably have to change his parking habits once the fines kick in.
“We are not sure how much the fines will be, but I don’t think I’m prepared to risk finding out. It’s tempting to park at places conveniently but it’s something I’ll have to take note of in the near future,” he said.
SCANNING QR CODES TO END TRIP
Besides imposing fines, bike-sharing firms also plan to fulfil LTA’s requirements on QR code-based geo-fencing, where users will have to scan a QR code at designated parking spaces as proof of proper parking before they can end their trip.
ofo said it has “already begun work to implement an additional step to allow users to scan a QR code at the end of the trip”.
“Used as a tool to influence user behaviour, and the use of public spaces, QR codes can be a part of the solution,” said ofo.
Lydia Sim, who uses Mobike and ofo bicycles, told Channel NewsAsia that scanning the QR code adds "a bit" of inconvenience to her trip.
“Sometimes the apps don’t pick up the QR code, and I could be spending a lot of time trying to key in the bike serial number and so on. I hope they’ll implement a system that will function well, I don’t want to be fined even though I parked at the right place,” said the 32-year-old teacher.
NEW FRAMEWORK POSES “FINANCIAL STRAIN”: oBike
As firms gear themselves up to comply with LTA’s operating licence requirements, local bike-sharing company oBike told Channel NewsAsia that the framework will place a “financial strain” on its current business model.
Although the firm confirmed that it is in the process of applying for the licence, and is “firming up some details”, it also said that it has to review and take into serious consideration all operational and financial decisions to ensure a sustainable and successful business model.
“Our goal is to assess and evaluate the financial and operational construct of the business and make an optimal decision to provide an efficient and effective bike sharing service after the implementation of the licensing scheme,” the firm said.
Bike-sharing firms – which include Mobike, ofo, oBike, SG Bike, Anywheel and ShareBikeSG – made their debut in Singapore from early 2016, putting a combined estimate of 100,000 bicycles on Singapore’s streets.