Bangkok Bike-Sharing Business Rolls On - But Where Are The Lanes?

Originally published on Channel NewsAsia on January 4, 2018

MobikeofooBike - more bike-sharing companies are offering their services in Bangkok - a city which roads were not designed for cyclists in mind. So what will the city be doing?

TRANSCRIPT

Of late, more Bangkokians have been seen cycling in the capital…yup,traffic and all.

And this trend seemed to have not gone unnoticed by bike sharing companies – making Bangkok the latest capital in Southeast Asia set to become a battleground for bike sharing service.

The latest contender to enter the market is 'Mobike', starting with a limited soft launch on the grounds of an university campus in Bangkok. 

But for the Chinese company, the Thai capital is just the beginning, with plans to expand to other cities in the country as well.

MARK LIN; Head of International City Operations; Mobike:
"We’re quite bullish on the Thailand market in general. Because it’s a very vibrant economy and [has] young demographics. And people are tech-savvy, are willing to try novel, new things. So I think this all fits the criteria of the users we’re looking for."

Like its competitors oBike and Ofo, Mobike is offering bicycles that don’t need to be docked at certain stations and can be simply unlocked via a smartphone app for a small fee.

But is that really enough to get people riding?

SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT; Bangkok, Thailand:
"Bike-sharing services are one way to get more people riding – and of course, there are the obvious benefits for health and the environment. But while it makes great sense to ride in wide open areas like this university campus here; in downtown Bangkok, the reality is going to be very different."

Bangkok’s roads were not built with cyclists in mind. 

Nevertheless, city officials have been pushing for more bike usage in recent years.

More than 300 kilometers of bike lanes have been built in and around the city.

The city administration also have their own bike sharing service – set up since 2013.

So far, it has about 9,700 registered users.

While the city doesn’t mind private bike sharing companies opening up shop in Bangkok, it is concerned about the many implications it has on the traffic.

THANACHAI MEKPRASERTWANICH; Director of Policy and Planning Division, Department of Traffic and Transport Bangkok Metropolitan Authority: "It will benefit the people. But what concerns the city are issues on safety that will come up and the impact of increased number of bikes. In other countries, for example, we’ve seen some problems there ranging from infrastructure, traffic, the understanding of bike sharing, sharing the roads. So when there are more bikes, there’ll be initial impacts."

Something that both the city administration and private bike sharing companies do agree on is the opportunity to offer - in combination with public transport system - a feasible transport alternative in order to combat the notorious traffic jams of Thailand’s capital. 

And Thais and tourists alike can discover a whole different perspective of Bangkok - on two wheels.

Don’t forget helmet and perhaps face mask.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok