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Angry oBike users slam bike-sharing firm, demand deposit refunds after shock pullout

SINGAPORE – Scores of irate oBike customers were left in the lurch after the homegrown bike-sharing firm's abrupt announcement on Monday (June 25) that it was ceasing operations in Singapore with immediate effect.

Scores of irate oBike customers were left in the lurch after the homegrown bike-sharing firm’s abrupt announcement on Monday (June 25) that it was ceasing operations in Singapore with immediate effect.

Scores of irate oBike customers were left in the lurch after the homegrown bike-sharing firm’s abrupt announcement on Monday (June 25) that it was ceasing operations in Singapore with immediate effect.

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SINGAPORE – Scores of irate oBike customers were left in the lurch after the homegrown bike-sharing firm's abrupt announcement on Monday (June 25) that it was ceasing operations in Singapore with immediate effect.

oBike, which had claimed to have a million users, said in a statement on its app and social media accounts that it was pulling out of Singapore owing to "difficulties" in meeting the new requirements mandated by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to tackle indiscriminate parking.

Customers seeking refunds of their mandatory deposits – S$19 and S$49 each for students and other users, respectively – were left angry and frustrated after numerous attempts to contact the firm over the phone and via email proved futile.

When they tried to load the oBike app to search for refund options, they were greeted with a message that said "no Internet connection".

As a result, more than 1,000 customers took to the firm's Facebook page to demand their money back. With oBike previously claiming that it had over a million users here, this could amount to between S$19 million and S$49 million in collected deposits.

Full-time national serviceman Leo Kee Luei, 22, who paid a S$19 deposit, said it was irresponsible for oBike to make its exit without "giving users a proper explanation or proper channel to get our money back".

Agreeing, business management undergraduate Edwin Tan, 27, said that "a lot of people will be upset", as they had heard the news from a third-party source instead of directly from oBike.

"It may be a small amount but it's still not responsible (for the company to do this)," said Mr Tan, who had paid a S$49 deposit.

Some customers also took issue with oBike informing them via a "Special Announcement" on its Facebook page, as they felt the notice was ambiguous.

"It should have been an apology…There was no clear information on why they are ceasing (operations), as well as the remedy for existing customers," said project manager Chu Phuong Linh, 27.

"This shows oBike doesn't care about their customers, but about their own pocket."

In a statement on Monday, the LTA advised affected customers to request for the refund of their deposits or subscription fees from oBike, and to approach the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) if they encounter any difficulty doing so.

For some oBike customers, the warning bells had started ringing a few months ago.

Accountancy student Lin Zhen, 24, had tried to get her S$19 deposit back in May as she was not a frequent user. She was then notified via the app that her request could take a month to be processed. However, she has yet to receive the money despite sending emails and Facebook messages to the company.

A number of Mr Leo's friends were also unsuccessful in their attempts to get a refund from oBike before Monday's announcement. He added: "It's the inability of the company to settle these issues that makes them appear like a scam.

"Usually this would happen to travel companies who (disappear) and you can't find any way to get the money back… It's very detrimental to their branding and the trust (we have)."

When TODAY visited oBike's office at Commonwealth Lane on Monday afternoon, there was no one there. Those working in neighbouring units said they had noticed fewer people moving in and out of the office in the past month.

"They've been pretty quiet lately…they used to be very noisy testing the bikes," said an offshore broker who declined to be named.

TODAY has also contacted oBike for comment.

For some customers, their experience with oBike has put a dampener on the use of such apps, and in particular cashless payments. This, as Singapore makes a big push towards becoming a cashless society, with government agencies and private firms jumping on the bandwagon to develop and use mobile apps for banking, retail, and e-payment for businesses, among others.

"If there are no safeguards for people who put in their money in such apps to make cashless payments, we still have a long way to go," said freelance photographer Yeo Kai Wen, 28, who was among the affected oBike users.

PEDALLING ON

While oBike said it was making its exit from Singapore due to the LTA's new rules requiring operators offering dockless shared bikes, personal mobility devices (PMDs) and power-assisted bicycles to be regulated under a new licensing regime, other ride-sharing firms told TODAY that they will be going ahead with their plans.

However, most of them said they would not be buying over oBike's 14,000 bicycles.

The LTA began accepting licence applications from May 8, and existing operators are required to submit their application for a two-year licence by July 7.

When contacted, bike-sharing firm ofo said it is "ready to fill the gap left by other operators leaving the market, and will meet the growing demand for shared bike services".

A Mobike spokesperson said that it is leveraging on technology such as proprietary smart locks with built-in Global Positioning System to deliver a "superior experience" for its users, and it will "continue to focus on our own business and manage our own fleet of bikes" here.

"As in every market where we operate, we respect and ensure we are compliant with local laws, regulations and culture," added the spokesperson.

Other firms such as SG Bike said it would be continuing its efforts to alleviate the problem of indiscriminate parking, such as educating users on proper bike-sharing behaviour, and implementing QR code geo-fencing for its bicycles.

For newer entrants like Anywheel, its operations teams will be "increasing the patrol trips to relocate and redistribute" improperly parked bicycles, as well as enhance its online management system to ramp up security and to report more quickly to LTA.

Acknowledging that it has faced difficulties in meeting LTA's technical requirements, Anywheel's spokesperson said: "We believe that we are well prepared, and hope that LTA would give us a chance to stay and grow in Singapore as a local start-up".

Mr Justin Seow, chief executive officer of electric scooter rental firm PopScoot, noted that consolidation in the bike-sharing industry could also be likely given Singapore's small market.

However, he is "confident the upcoming regulations for electric scooters sharing will be structured to encourage currently fledgling local innovative start-ups such as PopScoot". ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KENNETH CHENG, JUSTIN ONG GUANG-XI

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