The bike-sharing landscape in Singapore has seen a boom and bust over the years.
Back in 2017, it was saturated with seven bike-sharing players but many also exited the market within a few years.
Out of that seven players, only two are still standing strong today — Anywheel and SG Bike.
SG Bike has since grown to become the largest bike-sharing player in Singapore after its acquisition of Mobike with a current fleet size of 25,000 bicycles.
It Started Out With 200 Bicycles
Founded by Singaporeans Benjamin Oh, Sean Tay and David Lim, SG Bike was launched in August 2017 with a small fleet size of 200 bicycles at Holland Bukit Panjang.
It is Benjamin’s and David’s first rodeo in the bicycle industry. Sean on the other hand, has been involved in his family’s bicycle rental business along East Coast Park, which has been around for over 30 years.
The idea to start a bike-sharing business stemmed from the early days of 2008, where there was an interest to tap on technology to change the way people can rent bicycles, as observed from international markets.
However, many challenges were met due to difficulty in landscape and availability of technology.– Benjamin Oh, co-founder of SG Bike
When the Land Transport Authority of Singapore (LTA) called a tender for a national bicycle-sharing scheme in 2016, it presented the trio with a business opportunity.
However, the government initiative was later shelved after several private firms began offering such services.
Unfazed, the three 28-year-olds was determined to bring shared bicycles to Singapore so they worked on a dockless bike-sharing system.
SG Bike was later conceptualised with ISOTeam as a joint venture to provide a localised bike-sharing experience.
Although the bike-sharing market was saturated when they first launched, they have never felt that it was an unfavourable time to startup.
“We feel there is no right or wrong time to enter the market. We wanted to enter as early as we can to make a difference in the bike-sharing industry,” said Benjamin.
An Alternative Transport Option For S’poreans
Bicycles have always been a popular transport mode in Singapore and bike-sharing services has helped to increase the accessibility of bicycles.
Bike-sharing seeks to improve the (transport) experience and allow as many individuals to have access to bicycles by leveraging on technology.
(It) provides easy access to a bicycle at any point in a user’s commute around Singapore, even outside of their neighbourhood.– Benjamin Oh, co-founder of SG Bike
Beyond that, it provides users with a healthy and active lifestyle, and serves as a fast travel option to complete the first and last-mile journey.
With bike-sharing, users need not worry about expenses related to bicycle ownership and maintenance too.
One unique proposition of SG Bike is that unlike some other bike-sharing companies, it does not requires its users to place a deposit first. Users can instead opt to pay-per-use or subscribe to a ride pass.
Under the pay-per-use model, users pay for each trip with the balance in their SG Bike account.
Standard bicycles cost S$1 for the first 30 minutes and S$0.03 for every subsequent minute, while leisure bicycles cost S$3 for the first 30 minutes and $0.06 for every subsequent minute.
With a ride pass however, users can take unlimited 30-minute trips with the standard bicycles during the validity period. Any additional usage is charged at a pay-per-use rate: S$3.90 for a 7-day ride pass, and S$11.90 for a 30-day ride pass.
Solving The ‘Littering’ Problem Of Bicycles
In the early days, one of the key problems of bike-sharing is the indiscriminate bicycle parking.
To resolve that, SG Bike developed an in-house Geostation technology, which uses RFID to get users to park at designated areas (ie. yellow boxes and bicycle racks).
They worked closely with the respective town councils to discuss how they can potentially incorporate their Geostatation technology at void decks and around the neighbourhoods.
This made SG Bike the only bike-sharing operator in Singapore that required users to park bicycles at designated areas back then.
Failure to do so will result in a warning sound when locking the bicycle, and the user will be penalised should he/she insist to leave the bicycle parked indiscriminately after a 15-minute grace period to unlock the bicycle and relocate it.
Benjamin shared that the response at the start was mixed as they faced some initial resistance from users who were used to being able to randomly park the bicycles.
The bulk of the users do not see the need to park shared bicycles in a responsible manner since that was the “norm” back then when there was no proper control for parking among the service operators.
This was on top of ongoing market conditions market conditions where there were price wars between competitors.– Benjamin Oh, co-founder of SG Bike
Regardless of these challenges, SG Bike pushed on with their Geostation technology and believed that it will help “make a (positive) difference in the industry.”
Thankfully, there were users and stakeholders who appreciated their efforts. They recognised that the technology also helps users to be able to better locate bicycles.
Over time, users learned how to use their technology and services, and appreciated the convenience of a more organised bike-sharing service.
LTA also later implemented the QR code parking system, whereby users are required to end trips at designated parking areas and scan the relevant QR code, or risk getting banned and/or charged with an additional fee.
This implementation has significantly helped to alleviate the problem of indiscriminately parked bicycles.
The S$2.54M Acquisition Of Mobike
From 200 bicycles at launch, SG Bike’s fleet size grew to 3,000 bicycles in 2018 after it was officially licensed by LTA.
Progressively, its fleet size grew to 25,000 bicycles in 2019 after it acquired Mobike’s license for S$2.54 million.
With Mobike’s plans to adjust the international strategies, SG Bike and Mobike felt that the best way to secure the future of the existing 25,000 bicycles and ensure a highly sufficient bike-sharing scheme in Singapore was to acquire its license for 25,000 bicycles.
We always looked up to Mobike as the gold standard of bike sharing across the world, and growing to handle a fleet size of 25,000 also meant that we have to uphold the standards and do even better.– Benjamin Oh, co-founder of SG Bike
With the increased fleet size, SG Bike said that it remains committed to connect even more people to their destinations in a safe, affordable, and convenient way.
Beyond learning from Mobike’s best practices, SG Bike also consistently works on improving its services, while factoring in new changes in manpower and logistics constraints to take on a larger fleet size.
“We are thankful for the trust and confidence that Mobike has for SG Bike to grow the bike sharing culture and industry, and will strive towards the nation’s progress for a car-lite society,” said Benjamin.
Adapting And Adjusting To COVID-19
During this COVID-19 period, SG Bike has seen an increase in bicycle usage following the increase of the estimated doubling of new users.
With the COVID-19 overseas travel restrictions as well as work from home arrangements, we have observed an overall increase in usage of our services.
Some potential reasons include bicycles providing natural social distancing traits, as well as increased usage for daily commutes, recreational usage, and others such as for food delivery.– Benjamin Oh, co-founder of SG Bike
However, the pandemic also posed some downsides for their business.
Some of the issues faced were mainly operational and manpower restrictions, such as the lockdown and current workplace limitations that have impacted operational and logistics work on its bicycles.
Adapting to the pandemic, SG Bike has rolled out new functions to help ensure that their bicycles are sanitised and cleaned before each deployment.
“Digitally, we have also created informational infographics to advise our users to clean the main touchpoints of our bicycles before and after use,” said Benjamin.
“Despite the challenges, our teams are doing our best to ensure that our bicycles are in the best condition to serve our customers.”
Bridging Last-Mile Gap In Business Districts Next
Commenting on the bike-sharing landscape in Singapore, Benjamin said that it has changed significantly — “from an ungoverned space where it was “okay” to park “anywhere”, to one where LTA issues licenses for bike sharing operators.”
While some bike-sharing players such as ofo and oBike have witnessed a downfall, Benjamin feels that SG Bike’s approach since the start has always been different.
They started off with the desire to serve the nation, and worked closely with relevant authorities like LTA, town councils and National Parks Board to ensure that their business goals are aligned with the transport design agenda.
We launched with a small fleet size to maintain financial prudence while ensuring enough bicycles to serve a small operational area. We further take on feedback and work closely with users and relevant stakeholders to understand and improve our services.
This has allowed us to allocate resources more efficiently, which enabled us better capability to expand at a progressive rate to be able to handle an increased bicycle fleet size.– Benjamin Oh, co-founder of SG Bike
Over the next few years, SG Bike aims to reach a fleet of 100,000 bicycles to better serve the nation as it progresses towards a car-lite nation in 2040.
Beyond fleet expansion, SG Bike will continually explore how it can introduce new services, features and mobility devices to shape and provide for an active mobility lifestyle in Singapore.
It is also working on securing partnerships with more corporate partners, such as existing ones with JTC and others, to encourage cycling and close the last-mile gaps in business districts over the next few years.
Benjamin is also excited that the government is ramping up the bicycle infrastructure in Singapore with increasing numbers of yellow boxes and bicycle racks.
This is on top of the government’s plan to expand Singapore’s cycling path network by 2023, which will greatly benefit the bike-sharing industry.
“We are happy to see that the industry is growing, and we are excited to help propel bike sharing as a viable transport mode for Singapore together,” said Benjamin.
“The era of micro mobility has just begun and is starting to grow, and we are excited to see our services continuously transform and grow to be a greater part of a sustainable transport choice and lifestyle.”
Featured Image Credit: SG Bike