Cycling: Bike-share firm SG Bike aims to expand fleet size to 100,000 by 2023

SINGAPORE – At the height of the bike-sharing wave in early 2018, there were about 200,000 such bikes in Singapore owned by seven companies.

But that has since dwindled to just two – SG Bike and Anywheel – with giants such as Mobike and Ofo exiting the market last year.

Having survived the industry turbulence, local start-up SG Bike is now Singapore’s largest bike-share operator after taking over Mobike’s licence to operate 25,000 bicycles for $2.54 million last November.

And SG Bike is not about to stop there, as it plans to quadruple its fleet to 100,000 by 2023. Its rival, Anywheel, was in July given approval by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to increase its fleet size from 10,000 to 15,000.

SG Bike chief operating officer Sean Tay told The Straits Times that the company, which previously had a licence for 3,000 bikes, could not pass up on the opportunity to acquire Mobike’s fleet despite the risks involved.

He said: “The odds were stacked against us, but this was a big chance for us to see where we could go with this. If you think about the other logical considerations for buying a business, the answer is a clear no.

“There were too many uncertainties, so it was really a very bold move and one of the biggest decisions (we’ve had to make), but it paid off.”

SG Bike’s co-founders of Tay, chief technology officer David Lim and chief marketing officer Benjamin Oh are confident that there is still a future for the industry as the Government develops Singapore’s cycling infrastructure.

In March, the LTA announced plans to accelerate the trebling of Singapore’s cycling path network to 1,320km by 2030 in a project that will cost over $1 billion.

Tay said: “We want to build something so that future generations can grow up in this country where they not only can use buses, taxis and MRTs, but also bikes. We want to be proud in 20 years and say we built this, and it’s something that motivates us every single day at work.”

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But Tay also stressed that hitting the goal of 100,000 bikes in three years’ time was an “optimistic” target, with Lim adding that the company is taking a cautious approach to expansion.

Lim said: “We don’t want to be stationary, but we don’t want to fall into the trap that the first wave (of operators) did. We want to make sure that the expansion of our fleet is maintainable and stable.”

Like many businesses here, it was also hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, as safety measures implemented during the circuit breaker saw it having to shut down operations at its warehouse. As a result, the company was unable to repair its faulty bicycles and had to decommission about 20 to 40 per cent of its fleet to ensure the safety of its users.

But with measures gradually easing over the past few months, the company has managed to ride out the tough times and is focusing on its next project: the OCBC 2020 Virtual Ride from Nov 1-15.

The firm is the event’s official bike-sharing partner and participants can use its bicycles to complete any of the four categories – 800m, 5km, 23km and 42km – over the two weeks.

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The rental rate of SG Bike’s standard series bike is $1 for the first 30 minutes and $0.03 for each subsequent minute.

Those who use its bikes for the OCBC 2020 Virtual Ride will get $15 worth of credit when they top up their SG Bike accounts by $10. They can also reserve the bikes online in advance.

Oh said: “OCBC Cycle wants to champion cycling as a year-round activity, which is similar to our vision. We want to champion bicycles as a form of legitimate transport that everyone will consider.”

One of the key reasons that sets SG Bike apart from its competitors -then and now – said its founders, is operational excellence. It had entered the market in August 2017 with the hope of solving the issue of indiscriminate parking and misuse by implementing a system that would fine its users if they did not park in the designated zones. It continues to survey residents and work with town council to understand user patterns of specific towns.

Oh added: “Ultimately, bike sharing is not just about providing bicycles. We need to manage users and stakeholders so there’s a level of understanding.”

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