Bike sharing start-up ofo takes 'soft' approach to tackle errant parking

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SINGAPORE: Bike sharing start-up ofo said it intends to take the “soft” approach to tackling the issue of errant parking of its dockless bicycles, but is not averse to implementing tougher rules if the problem persists.

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday (May 24), Mr Lawrence Cao, head of ofo’s Asia Pacific Business, said the issue of errant parking, and the misuse of its bicycles here in general, is not unique to the local business and the same can be seen in China too. “Human behaviour is (all) the same,” he noted, adding that the general behaviour of Singapore users is “quite honest”.

Since the emergence of bike sharing services in Singapore, there have been reports of bicycles parked indiscriminately as well as cases of misuse and vandalism. In fact, ofo had made a police report in April after a teen was seen thrashing one of its bicycles in a video posted online.

To address this, Mr Cao said its updated app will include suggestions for users to park within the geographic region they are in. Another initiative it is introducing is for users to make a one-time refundable deposit of S$39 on their registration, which is on top of the charges per ride. It will be charging $1 for every hour of travel, capped at $2 for the entire journey, the company said. The service was previously offered for free before a $0.50 per trip charge was introduced. 

He also pointed out that there is a 30-strong ground operations crew that can be deployed to shift bicycles that are parked in places they should not be, although the company is keen to stress that this is just one of the ways to tackle the issue and it is not sustainable to keep growing the team for this purpose alone.

Co-founder Yu Xin, who was sitting in on the interview, added that the company is not closed off to the possibility of introducing tougher measures to foster good user behaviour. Among the ideas being considered is to continue to charge users if they do not park in the designated parking spaces indicated on the app, he said.

Besides ofo, another China-based service provider Mobike and local start-up oBike are the other players in the market.

Its competitor, oBike, had in April introduced a credit system that rewards users that show good behaviour and penalises those who do not. Once the user runs out of points, they automatically get locked out of the service. Meanwhile, Mobike is offering credits to users who help others locate its bikes as well as those who report errant behaviour, according to its website.

GPS, SMART LOCK ADDED

Mr Cao also noted that feedback from users here is playing a prominent role in the slew of new additions the company announced on Wednesday. There are currently 100,000 registered users in Singapore who clock more than 20,000 journeys daily since ofo launched 100 days ago, it said.

For instance, one of the main bugbears reported was the inability to locate ofo bicycles as there was no GPS capabilities on the original fleet. With the app update, it is tapping on Google Maps to inform users of bike locations, as well as highlight parking zones and nearby attractions, the start-up said.

The smart lock syncs with a user’s mobile phone via Bluetooth, and also allows for GPS tracking. 

Besides integrating with Google Maps, ofo is also introducing a new bicycle – the ofo Aura 1.0 – to the market, which comes with a smart lock that syncs to a user’s mobile phone via Bluetooth and complements the GPS capabilities. The company said users can lock and unlock the bicycle under three seconds, and is also more secure. The new model also comes with Shimano internal three-speed gear system, a aluminium basket with a bottle holder, rear brake box and an adjustable handle-bar, its press release said.

The company intends to deploy 500 such bicycles in the initial phase, and this is in addition to the “several thousands” of bicycles it had already deployed in Singapore at launch.

Looking ahead, ofo said it aims to release more than 1,000 bicycles across 28 different Housing and Development Board estates by end-2017. It is currently participating in a year-long pilot with the Jurong-Clementi Town Council, together with Mobike and oBike, which may be implemented islandwide if successful. It is also in talks with JTC Corporation to bring the new fleet to one-north and Tuas by the end of the year, it said.

Among the additions to the Aura 1.0 bicycle based on user feedback: An aluminium basket and an adjustable handle-bar. 

Taking a leaf from the playbook of car ride-sharing service providers Grab and Uber, ofo also announced on Wednesday it had partnered AXA to offer insurance coverage to both the user and the third-party should there be an accident. Singapore is the first market to implement this, and ofo will roll out to the other markets subsequently, said co-founder Yu.

Mr Cao said, ultimately, that while garnering market share is important, ofo is not in Singapore to just gain users. It is also looking to tap its talent base to add to the company’s capabilities, the executive said.  

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