Lack of infrastructure, regulations killing bike-sharing services

Cycling infrastructure is the determinant factor in influencing city dwellers to choose bicycles over motor vehicles for daily use

By SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH

Lack of infrastructure and regulations are among the major reasons that contribute to the gradual disappearance of bike-sharing businesses in Malaysia.

Sanjey Chandran, a mobility observer, said the cycling infrastructure  provided by the government  is the determinant factor in influencing city dwellers to choose bicycles over motor vehicles for daily use.

“In Malaysia, the cycling infrastructure has not been entirely developed compared to European countries,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in an interview recently.

This, he believes, has led bicycle- sharing firms to re-strategise their business model and shift their focus from Malaysia to other countries.

“Their business models seemed to have been scaled down quite a lot than when they started a couple years ago,” he said.

Ofo, an Alibaba Group Holding Ltd-backed company, has ceased its entire operation in Malaysia after more than a year expanding its services to Melaka.

Last August, the company said in a statement that the firm was organising its international market strategy to focus on priority countries including Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.

OBike (M) Sdn Bhd, which has been operating in Malaysia since April 2017, ceased operation in its base country due to unmet requirements that have been put in place by Singapore’s Land Transport Authority to tackle indiscriminate parking.

There have been cases of missing bicycles and docks in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, causing financial losses to these companies.

So far, Mobike is the only start-up operating in the country, having secured a partnership with SP Setia Bhd last year.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs senior fellow HK Yong said Kuala Lumpur could be a “bike-city” if appropriate regulations and infrastructure are to be strictly enforced by the government.

“I think people would definitely start to cycle if the lanes are shaded and the government imposes expensive congestion charges.

“It will trade off the climate discomfort and cost of private transportation,” he said.

Yong believes that the weather is one of the reasons that is stopping Malaysians from cycling for leisure or work.

“What has worked in other countries might not have worked in Malaysia due to our climate. People in the city of London might enjoy cycling more than we do.

“The outcome of cycling in a hot weather is just inconvenience, in addition to the ill-enforced bicycle lanes,” he told TMR.

In Penang, however, LinkBike, a Penang-based service operated by Fast Rent Bike (Penang) Sdn Bhd, has managed to achieve between 3,000 and 3,500 ridership monthly.

“The trend of ridership in Georgetown has its ups and downs due to the weather. At the moment, we currently have between 3,000 and 3,500 ridership monthly in Georgetown,” its spokesperson Rendy Ooi said.

He told TMR that Penangites have been using the service to get around the city for their daily commute, particularly during the midday break.

“The Penangites use our LinkBike as part of their daily commute to banks, lunch, work and college classes around Georgetown during lunchtime to avoid traffic and parking hassles.

“The bikes have also been used by tourists for easy commute and running their errands. We can see the trend is growing, but it has not been hugely utilised yet,” he said.

He acknowledged that the challenge is to persuade locals to get used to the cycling culture.

“The challenge has always been there from the start as the cycling culture has not been entirely adopted by Malaysians — with the main factor of bicycle-sharing being a new service in the country.

“We believe with the right strategy, we will be able to make it a trend that can be sustained,” Ooi said, adding that for the firm’s two-year ope- ration in the state, there were no reported cases of vandalism on its bikes or stations.

LinkBike currently has 29 dock- stations with more than 250 available bicycles.