SINGAPORE, July 1 — The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has awarded a one-year licence to Chinese bike-sharing giant Hello Inc., allowing it to run a fleet of up to 1,000 bicycles in Singapore.

The firm’s Singapore operation HelloRide was awarded a "sandbox" licence and will have to apply for a full licence after a year to operate with a larger fleet of bicycles, LTA said in a statement on Friday (July 1).

“When evaluating applications, LTA will consider factors such as the applicant’s track record, and ability to manage indiscriminate parking and ensure healthy fleet utilisation,” LTA said.

The entry makes Shanghai-based Hello the third bike-sharing operator in Singapore after Anywheel and SG Bike and brings the total offering here to 36,000 bikes.

The move also comes after a sharp decline in the bike-sharing industry from its peak in 2018 when there were six companies — Anywheel, GBikes, Mobike, oBike, Ofo, Share Bike SG and SG Bike — offering more than 200,000 bikes at the time.

The startup, previously known as HelloBike, is backed by Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Ant Group.

Since bike-sharing first arrived here in 2017, the government has had to make regulatory moves to curb the then-burgeoning industry amid complaints of indiscriminate parking.

In March that year, it began designating yellow rectangular zones in public areas where these shared bicycles must be parked in.

The next year, Parliament passed amendments to the Parking Places Act to tackle indiscriminate parking of shared bicycles. Among the new measures are a licensing regime for bike-sharing operators and geo-fencing technology that requires users to scan a Quick Response (QR) code at designated parking lots as proof of proper parking before ending their trips.

Soon after, oBike abruptly announced it was pulling out of Singapore citing “difficulties” in meeting the new requirements, leaving scores of irate customers scrambling to recover their deposits with the firm.

When the licensing regime kicked in, some operators were allowed much smaller fleet sizes than they had sought and the total number of shared bicycles in Singapore was slashed by about half.

More exits followed and the problematic departure of Ofo, which laid off staff without compensation after owing at least S$700,000 (RM2.21 million) to creditors, only tarnished the beleaguered industry further.

LTA said today that since the introduction of the QR parking system and the ban of users who repeatedly park ungraciously, more than 90 per cent of users now end their trips at designated spots.

“Since 2019, LTA’s regulatory requirements have helped to support the sustainable growth of the bicycle-sharing landscape,” it added.

AnyWheel and SG Bike told TODAY in 2020 they were optimistic amid a quiet resurgence of bike-sharing here despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, transport analysts said that the bike-sharing model has never been profitable globally and do not expect such a model to work in Singapore either. TODAY has reached out to Hello for comment. ― TODAY