Op­er­a­tors bullish about pub­lic PMD-shar­ing

Seven firms ap­ply­ing for LTA li­cence con­fi­dent they won’t face prob­lems that plagued bike-shar­ing

The New Paper - - FRONT PAGE - KOK YUFENG

Two years of bi­cy­cle-shar­ing in Sin­ga­pore have been plagued with is­sues rang­ing from van­dal­ism to in­dis­crim­i­nate park­ing to op­er­a­tors go­ing bust.

In re­cent years, per­sonal mo­bil­ity de­vices (PMDs), in par­tic­u­lar e-scoot­ers, have also sparked con­tro­versy, with reck­less rid­ers in­fring­ing on roads or caus­ing ac­ci­dents on foot­paths. Some de­vices also caught fire while be­ing charged.

But this has not de­terred firms seek­ing a piece of the PMD-shar­ing pie in the Land Trans­port Au­thor­ity’s (LTA) lat­est round of li­cence ap­pli­ca­tions.

Mr Zachary Wang, co-founder of Sin­ga­pore start-up Neu­ron Mo­bil­ity, told The New Paper: “We are op­ti­mistic about PMD-shar­ing. I think there is a real need for it.”

His sen­ti­ment was echoed by six other firms, which told TNP they would also be ap­ply­ing for a sand­box li­cence to op­er­ate pub­lic PMD-shar­ing ser­vices. They are:

US-based Lime, val­ued at US$1.1 bil­lion (S$1.49 bil­lion), op­er­at­ing in more than 125 mar­kets world­wide; Ride-hail­ing firm Grab, which ditched its sand­box bi­cy­cle-shar­ing li­cence last month to fo­cus on PMD-shar­ing; Sin­ga­pore-based Beam, which raised US$6.4 mil­lion last year; and

Three other home­grown play­ers – Tele­pod, Any­wheel and Scoot­bee.

The cur­rent li­cence ap­pli­ca­tion cy­cle, which closes on Feb 11, is the first open to PMD-shar­ing firms, which can ap­ply for only a sand­box li­cence.

This lim­its each op­er­a­tor’s fleet size to at least 200 de­vices and not more than 500. The re­sults will be an­nounced in the sec­ond quar­ter of this year.

Beam’s vice-pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate af­fairs, Mr Christo­pher Hilton, said the sand­box li­cence’s small fleet al­lows op­er­a­tors to get their feet wet and gives them an even foot­ing.

So in­stead of try­ing to com­pete on mar­ket share, op­er­a­tors need to prove they have the op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity to suc­ceed.

Any­wheel’s strat­egy man­ager, Mr Seet Rui Jie, said he be­lieves bike-shar­ing firm oBike’s de­par­ture has made the au­thor­i­ties more cau­tious.

Is­sues such as re­funds of users’ de­posits also shook the con­fi­dence in smaller firms such as Any­wheel, which will be us­ing a dif­fer­ent fee model, he added.

Most of the other op­er­a­tors said they also have no plans to col­lect de­posits from users.

They feel PMD-shar­ing is the so­lu­tion to the de­mand for short-dis­tance trips and the gap in first- and last-mile travel that has yet to be plugged.

They said e-scooter tech­nol­ogy gives them greater con­trol com­pared to the smart locks in­stalled on shared bi­cy­cles.

Mr Wang said Neu­ron can switch its PMDs on or off in real time, adding: “In e-scooter shar­ing, the dy­namic changes be­cause of the tech­nol­ogy.”

Scoot­bee said it has de­vel­oped a self-driv­ing e-scooter that can go to its users on de­mand and park it­self.

Firms such as Neu­ron and Lime are look­ing at crowd­sourc­ing as a so­lu­tion to in­dis­crim­i­nate park­ing by of­fer­ing in­cen­tives to users to re­turn stray e-scoot­ers to des­ig­nated park­ing spots.

Mr Hilton said the need to in­ter­act with PMDs daily would elim­i­nate such is­sues as in­dis­crim­i­nate park­ing and un­der­use that plagued bike-shar­ing.

Grab’s spokesman said it had learnt from its bike-shar­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that it needed full con­trol over the plat­form, prod­uct and lo­gis­tics to en­sure a high level of safety and qual­ity.

Hav­ing gov­ern­ment-reg­u­lated PMD fleet op­er­a­tors also mit­i­gates bad be­hav­iour, said Mr Wang, when asked about hit-and-run ac­ci­dents.

“At any given time, I will know where the scooter is, how fast it is trav­el­ling and who is us­ing it,” he said.

“I would even ar­gue that PMD-shar­ing is a bet­ter form of mo­bil­ity so­lu­tion than what that we cur­rently have, be­cause it brings more ac­count­abil­ity.”

Mr Hilton, who was pre­vi­ously with bike-shar­ing firm ofo, said the neg­a­tiv­ity sur­round­ing shared mo­bil­ity and PMD use here are grow­ing pains as­so­ci­ated with any new trans­porta­tion mode.

Lime Sin­ga­pore’s gen­eral man­ager, Mr Ash­win Pu­rushot­tam, said ef­forts by the Gov­ern­ment and bike-shar­ing op­er­a­tors have raised aware­ness on the re­spon­si­ble use of mo­bil­ity de­vices. Be­yond ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns,the onus is still on users to ride re­spon­si­bly, he added.

Said Mr Hilton: “There is al­ways go­ing to be some bad ap­ples that make it chal­leng­ing for the rest who want to use PMDs prop­erly.”

PHO­TOS: REUTERS, BEAM

(Above) An e-scooter from Beam. (Right) US-based Lime is in 125 mar­kets world­wide.

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