For the past few weekends, I have been whizzing around on bright yellow bicycles, chatting up aunties and uncles in my neighbourhood. Maybe it's my friendly demeanour though more likely, I'm just not cycling fast enough but I find myself an unwitting ambassador for bike-sharing in Singapore.
"Yes this is free for now. They are still getting a sense of the take-up rate and operations."
"Hai lor, yi gor mou gear, mm hai hou fai." (Cantonese for ‘This bike has no gears and isn’t very fast.)
"用手机的app可以找到bike" (Chinese for ‘You can find the bike using the mobile app’)
Since January, three bike-sharing companies have been testing controlled rollouts of the service across the island. As an early adopter in the mature estate where I stay, I have been stopped many times by passers-by asking the same questions about the rental process, cost of rental and where to find the bikes. I do my best to provide multi-language FAQs; it is always nice to be helpful, especially if they call you ‘Ah Boy’.
Based on my limited and unscientific observations, bike-sharing is still new to Singaporeans, especially to the less digitally-connected. The idea that you can rent a bike, not from a person but using a mobile app and credit card, is astounding. For senior citizens who want an easy way to get around, having to navigate the app and payment method, might prove to be a road block. But the real challenge for bike-sharing in Singapore is the concept of a sharing economy.
There have been reports of errant bike users leaving their bikes along pavements, under drains, chained up outside their flats and even stripped of parts. Such behaviour is selfish and disappointing, and like the title of this article, it affirms “why we can’t have nice things”
Despite all this, I am still keeping my fingers crossed that bike-sharing will work out in Singapore. Our high density, high internet penetration rate and high COE prices are perfect conditions for bike-sharing to flourish. We simply would not have enough space if everyone owned a bicycle. Plus, being able to pick up a bike at point A and drop it off at point B, makes it so much more useful. Remember the good old days when you rented a bicycle at East Coast Park, cycled to one end with all your strength, and still had to cycle back to return it?
In other major cities with bike-sharing schemes, vandalism and theft is similarly a big problem. The problem is not intrinsically Singaporean, as much as human selfishness. Plus, sharing is not foreign to many of us living close proximity to one other. We keep an eye out for our neighbours’ flat when they go on holidays, help to water their plants or make sure their children aren’t loitering around after school (Some say kaypoh, I say concerned). The kampung spirit is well and alive in our community.
Through my work for Singapore Day 2017, I recently met with the passionate staff from Changi Hospital Centre for Innovation, who work with volunteers in the community to take care of vulnerable residents in Bedok. More than 200 trained volunteers check in on elderly living alone every day, to make sure that they take their medicine, go to the doctors or just have a chat.
Still in the east, the community initiative “My Kind of Fridge” sees friendly neighbours regularly stocking two refrigerators with fresh produce, for residents at an HDB rental block with low income families. Anyone is welcome to take what they need or give what they want.
Between sharing food and sharing bicycles, I'm doing my best to share advice. It may not be immediately apparent to the uninitiated that parking the bicycle on the 9th floor of an HDB block makes it impossible to find via GPS. Or that chaining the bicycle is uncalled for. So it’s probably better to err in their favour. After all, chatting up fellow residents in my neighbourhood is one way to rekindle the kampung spirit. So help me out here and share your translations, I’d love to know how to explain bike-sharing in Hokkien and Malay.