“The good times are over,” for dockless bike-sharing, according to Singapore-based urban transport expert Professor Park Byung Joon. "If you look at bicycle-sharing, no one is making any money anywhere in the world. From a business point of view, this is a joke."
Late last year, hordes of angry customers gathered outside the Beijing headquarters of dockless bike-share firm Ofo to demand their deposits back.
The firm was put on a government black list for failing to pay its debts. Founder Dai Wei said Ofo had “borne immense cashflow pressure” over the previous 12 months and that he had considered filing for bankruptcy.
Rival Mobike meanwhile has closed down its largest UK operation in Manchester and The Newspaper reports that its goal is now to be operational only in its native China.
This week it became the third major operator to withdraw from Singapore and Professor Park Byung Joon from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) is not surprised.
“They really don't have any viable business plan,” he said of dockless bike-share firms. “The good times are over. Now we have to pay."
Operators have attracted millions from investors in large part thanks to the valuable data that users share by using the schemes. In China in particular, this investment has led to rival firms flooding the streets with bikes in the hope of cornering the market in each city.
"It is a business model that defied gravity because there was a lot of cheap money pumped into it,” said Byung Joon’s colleague, transport economist Walter Theseira. "Gone will be the days of just putting bikes everywhere.”
Both experts said current fares were never likely to have covered rising operational costs. “Commuters using public transport already receive a heavy subsidy,” observed Byung Joon. “If that is the case, then why shouldn't they do it for bicycles?"