by Marilyn Peh on

We all know that feeling of waiting for a feeder bus that seems likely to arrive circa 2100.

Hopping on a bike and riding off into the sunset used to be fantasy, until bicycle-sharing recently emerged as a highly attractive alternative to swatting mosquitos by the roadside in Singapore.

Since the start of the year, competing service providers Mobike, Ofo and OBike have ramped up similar campaigns that promised local commuters all the fun things – easy access to bicycles, affordable prices and convenient return stations.

Combining technology with the principles of community sharing, these enterprises have released thousands of bicycles in prominent locations islandwide, and are looking to add even more. Users can arrange for rental via a mobile application, pick up and return the bikes at bicycle parking areas closest to their starting and ending location.

All seemed to be going swimmingly, until the Ugly Singaporean reared his head.

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Image Source: Facebook / Weng Yew

In the past week, photos of bicycles chained up along HDB corridors, haphazardly left behind at void decks or abandoned along pedestrian pathways have been shared online. They are shocking evidence of how the system that operates significantly on integrity and responsibility is being abused by some black sheep.

While all three service providers require users to fork out a deposit and pay for credits that are deducted after each ride, these costs have not deterred some from taking these bicycles for their personal use, or flouting the guidelines by creating their own imaginary return stations.

With these acts of theft and negligence, it seems the Achilles heel of Singapore’s bike-sharing vision is that it puts its trust in the community to be responsible and rule-abiding. Unlike traditional bicycle rental services, bike-sharing users don’t need to leave their ICs with rental staff, and there is also no one to spot-check that the bicycles are returned in good condition.

This suggests that our very Singaporean tendency to go “law by law” dissipates the moment some of us feel confident enough that we will not get caught. For this same reason, stolen shopping trolleys have been the bane of local supermarkets’ existence for a long time.

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Image Source: Facebook / Tampines Town Council

Whether it’s bicycles or trolleys, why do some of us feel entitled to take things for ourselves that are meant to be shared among the community? And does that mean that Singaporeans are dishonest and selfish?

It would definitely be unfair to tar an entire community by the same brush. Furthermore, honour systems everywhere will always have to grapple with dishonest players who try to game the system.

If the temptation posed by how easy it is to not get caught is too much to bear, surely introducing fines and penalties, along with more robust methods of tracing users, would jolt most of us into practising greater accountability. However, what would that say about our ability to incubate community sharing? Bicycle sharing is not the first such initiative we have seen, and it certainly won’t be the last. Do we really need rules upon more rules, when some common sense and graciousness could cut it?

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In the case of bicycle-sharing in Singapore, which is an initiative still in its early days, it is possible that users still don’t fully grasp its rules and terms of engagement. As it gains wider prominence and more people start jumping on the practice, it can be hoped that the proper practices will be similarly embraced, as both service providers and responsible users work together to help to foster a culture of responsible bicycle sharing.

Already, some are banking on carrots rather than sticks to weed out some of these bad eggs. Ofo has actively called upon users to help report bicycle damage and acts of mischief that they may have witnessed. For the month of April, it is also offering voucher rewards to users who help to move improperly parked bicycles to the correct bicycle parking areas. Mobike also offers credits to those who help report bicycles that are illegally kept or parked.

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Image Source: Facebook / Chay Him

By doing so, both service providers are nudging people into taking ownership of their bicycle-sharing community. With more responsible users out on the road, it will become much harder for someone to get away with tampering with the bicycles’ GPS trackers or throwing it over a random bush. It’s a win-win because users will no longer go searching for their rented bicycles, only to find its GPS tracker unceremoniously glued to an abandoned mahjong table.

On paper, bicycle-sharing is genius for a place like Singapore, with its high incidence of time-strapped folks whose commutes often involve an awkward should-i-take-the-bus-or-walk-under-the-hot-sun segment or two. It would be a shame if the scheme fails to take flight due to the inconsiderate actions of a few.

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As we click our tongues and shake our heads at the problems plaguing Singapore’s fledgling bicycle-sharing initiative, a neighbourhood community in Tampines North is showing us how the values of consideration and integrity are by no means dead in our society.

Wanting to help the 100 or so rental flats occupied by needy families in the area, two community fridges were placed at Block 441, one for general items and the other reserved for halal foods. The brainchild of the Tampines North Citizen’s Consultative Committee, the initiative encouraged residents to donate food to those who may find it hard to put together a meal for their families.

Launched in January this year and endearingly called the ‘My Kind of Fridge’, the initiative is still going strong today. One of the kindergartens within the community has even pledged to grow vegetables and donate their harvest to these community fridges.

Taking a leaf from their books, bicycle-sharing enthusiasts need not despair, if both consideration and ownership in the wider community can similarly take root.