Credit: Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART)

Credit: Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART)

Insights on usage of dockless bike sharing in Singapore from SMART researchers

As dockless bicycle sharing becomes increasingly popular in Singapore, the Singapore Government introduced legislation into the Parliament last week to allow the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to implement a licensing regime for operators that provide for dockless sharing of active mobility devices.

Researchers from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) have come up with insights on the usage of dockless bike sharing in Singapore, which could offer guidance to urban planners, policy makers, and transportation practitioners who wish to promote bike-sharing service while ensuring its sustainability.

They published a paper, "Understanding the usage of dockless bike sharing in Singapore", in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation in February 2018. This research was funded by the National Research Foundation Singapore under its Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) programme.

The researchers collected the GPS data of all dockless bikes from one of the largest bike sharing operators in Singapore for nine consecutive days, for a total of over 14 million records. They used this data to explore the impact of bike fleet size, surrounding built environment, access to public transportation, bicycle infrastructure, and weather conditions on the usage of dockless bikes.

Leveraging a new analysis method developed by the SMART Future Urban Mobility (FM) Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG), the researchers arrived at several findings which could help Singapore achieve equilibrium between demand and supply of such bicycles, given that the fleet size is now no longer constrained by the capacity of the docking stations.

Larger bike fleet size was found to be associated with higher usage, but with diminishing marginal impact. In addition, high land use mixtures, easy access to public transportation, more supportive cycling facilities, and free-ride promotions positively impact the usage of dockless bikes.

The researchers found that each bicycle is used less than twice per day on average. The usage of dockless bikes was higher in the evening (after 5pm) than the morning peak, thereby bringing up a rebalancing issue for fleet management.

Rainfall and high temperatures exhibited a negative impact on bike utilisation. Weather plays a key role in determining usage. In view of Singapore's frequent rainy weather or scorching heat, greater infrastructure support such as built covered walkways are needed to promote bike utilisation and avoid too many bikes remaining idle and affecting bike operators' bottomline. This effect is accentuated by the fact that the rain also promotes faster degradation of the bicycles.

Supply is much higher in public property areas (HDB or public housing flats) areas versus private residential. High bike usage was observed near MRT station and bus stops, implying that dockless bikes are heavily used for last-mile trips to and from public transport.

SMART FM Postdoctoral Associate, Dr Zhang Xiaohu, said, "This work pioneers the study of dockless bike-sharing programmes based on real-time GPS data. It highlights the diminishing returns as the fleet size gets larger beyond a certain point at specific areas. Regulating fleet size is certainly needed for the effective management of urban public space as the oversupply of bikes may hurt the operators' economic sustainability and cause urban and visual pollution."

SMART FM Principal Investigator, Prof Zhao Jinhua, added, "In contrast to Singapore’s otherwise premium transportation system, its cycling infrastructure is lacking. To be at the forefront of sustainable transportation, Singapore needs to substantially expand pedestrian and bicycle paths, enable deeper integration with public transportation and cultivate a culture of active travel.”

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