Photo: Dine Inn
We're living in the era of the sharing economy model - where people rent or share something they own in exchange for cash or services in return. More than ever in the last two years, we’ve been getting rides in other people’s cars, visiting their homes for a meal, swopping books, and gardening alongside them. But do the proliferation of all these services actually work, and how does it better our lives? I decided to try them all out for a week to see for myself.
Day 1: Electric Car Sharing
It’s a fairly simple model: 105 electric cars spread out over 42 stations around the island are available for anyone with a registered BlueSG account to drive. Cars and parking spaces can be reserved via the app. To use the car, you’ll need an EZ-Link or Nets card to tap in (both work like a car key), or you can choose to have a BlueSG Badge mailed to you. As you’ll be charged by the minute for usage (33 cents a minute on a one year plan, and 50 cents a minute for a weekly plan), don’t think of it as a rental car to drive around all day.
So far, so good. However, the week I was due to test out a Bluecar, I got a text from a friend. “See lah! Singaporeans cannot share,” she proclaimed, attaching an article about a dented electric car that was circulating on the Internet. So, it was not without trepidation that I stepped into the two-door hatchback Bluecar a few days later. Aside from not being able to figure out how to use certain functions (I was confounded by the airconditioning, and drove the sweltering car around for 20 minutes), the floor mat below the driver’s seat was caked with dried mud (eww), and had dried leaves scattered about.
It was significantly better the second time round. I was more accustomed to the car (which was also a lot cleaner), and realised that I had missed some features the first time – like being able to rate the car’s cleanliness on a monitor as soon as you get in, and a hotline to report items left behind, as well as built-in safety measures such as an extremely responsive brake pedal to account for different drivers’ abilities. BlueSG does provide insurance coverage up to the minimum amount required by law (read their T&Cs for more details), but you’ll incur penalties for misdemeanours like drink driving.
Charging stations are scattered between housing estates and central locations like Tan Quee Lan Street. BlueSG intends to have 2,000 charging points by 2020, which would make things way more convenient. For now, I’d only use a Bluecar if there was a station in my vicinity.
The thing about car-sharing, though, is this – you have to step up and own the issue. Clean up your mess. Report lost and found items, or a massive scratch on the car. Keeping mum means you’re passing the problem on to the driver after you. And that’s not cool.
It‘s a good option if you don’t own a car and want to skip public transport, but you’ll have to do your homework and find the car closest to you.
Addendum: In March, BlueSG reported that the Bluecars have been rented more than 20,000 times in its first three months of operation, with more than 9,000 users.
Day 2: Bike-sharing
Photo: The Straits Times
The mechanics are easy enough: Get an account with your chosen bike-sharing service provider, and use the app to locate a bike, unlock it, and go for a ride. Personally, I had zero problems with the bikes I tried out (they were easy to find, using them was disaster-free, and they’re a lifesaver for short-distance travel – like getting to an MRT station). However, a colleague told me that of the 21 bikes she’s encountered, 12 had a reported fault (which you’ll be alerted to when you unlock the bike on the app). That means the bike can’t be used, and you’ll have to move on to the next one. Overall though, it seems that bike-sharing is catching on, as evidenced by the number of active users – Obike alone claims to have close to one million of them.
The problem comes when you get to your destination. You’ve seen it – bikes in the drain, bikes carelessly piled on top of one another, even bikes hanging off a tree(!). Guess you could say we aren’t great at taking care of stuff we don’t own. In a move to cut back on bikes parked irresponsibly (such as those tossed onto the grass or in the middle of the pavement), the Land Transport Authority has set up more bicycle parking zones, while companies such as Ofo have initiated a geofencing feature that indicates acceptable parking areas, as well as a point system that rewards riders who make the effort.
Still, I’m optimistic that things will get better. After all, it’s only been a year since we’ve taken bikes out of the park and started using them regularly for day-to-day travel, so it’ll definitely take some time for problems to be ironed out.
This would get a higher rating if we didn’t have to pick the fallen bikes off the grass or the pavement.
Addendum: It was reported this March that bicycle sharing operators will have to apply for a new LTA license to regulate fleet sizes and reduce indiscriminate parking.