Is Singapore too selfish for the sharing economy?

OCTOBER 8 — A certain percentage of people are basically jerks and that’s the polite phrasing.

I haven’t worked out what proportion of people fall into this category but overall I don’t think its actually a very large percentage of the population.

Still, this subgroup manages to do a pretty impressive amount of damage and very effectively makes life more difficult for the rest of us.

A related point worth considering is whether the proportion of “jerks” varies significantly across nations or if it’s actually fairly static ie. X percentage of any given population are likely to be jerks?

Sometimes though I have a sneaking suspicion that Singapore scores above average in the per capita jerk index.

My suspicions have been heightened following the tightening of regulations on oBikes.

Now oBike is basically a bicycle-sharing/renting app: You download the app, locate the nearest oBike, unlock it and then peddle it wherever it is you want to go, or even to multiple points and when you are done, you park and lock it.

The latest regulation which insists that oBike only allows pick up and drop off at designated areas in Singapore is the result of some very selfish behaviour by previous users. — Picture from
The latest regulation which insists that oBike only allows pick up and drop off at designated areas in Singapore is the result of some very selfish behaviour by previous users. — Picture from

A fee is deducted  for minutes used.

It’s a very simple idea and common in cities worldwide. Bikes you can pick up and drop off.

Where it stood out was that you could pick up and drop off the bikes anywhere... not just at designated pick-up points/stands, which is the case with most bike sharing apps.

Finding and going back to pick-up stations was always a bit of a pain so this free and easy model, together with low costs and a very high number of the distinct yellow bicycles available made it a very successful scheme.

oBike claims up to 1 million users in Singapore; that’s 20 per cent of the population.

It’s sufficiently convenient that even an avowed couch potato like myself can now quite frequently be found two-wheeling along the streets of Yishun — a bit of exercise and more fun and less hassle than going around in a car or by bus (for short distances anyway).

And yet despite the convenience and general pleasantness of it all, a certain number of inconsiderate users managed to ruin the system. How?

Well, apart from the usual vandalism and theft which is normal for bicycle-sharing/rental schemes anywhere, there was also rampant abuse of oBike’s best feature — the pick up anywhere, drop off anywhere component.

Now, drop off anywhere doesn’t mean you can be an utterly inconsiderate jerk: don’t leave the things sprawled in front of people’s doorways, don’t just leave them blocking walkways or obstructing traffic.

You’d think this would be commonsense but no, the bikes were left everywhere. Under highway bridges, on top of trees (one assumes this was a practical joke) etc.

The upshot was, of course, that local authorities got upset by the chaos and disorder and now oBikes will have to be picked up and left in designated areas.

This massively reduces the convenience of the whole thing but I see why our order-loving authorities went this way.  It’s a disappointing end to an idea that was basically founded on trust, that people would not abuse a little bit of freedom.

While of course bike-sharing is not a major issue in the scheme of things, there’s a bigger point here.

Singapore is eager to proclaim itself a First World nation but do we really have First World citizenry? 

We are meant to be civic-minded and care about our surroundings ie. not like the litter-loving, horn-tooting, jay-walking citizens of our non-First World neighbours. But the reality seems to be that it’s actually only rigid enforcement that keeps us on the straight and narrow.

Have we not progressed from the early days when our founding father Lee Kuan Yew used the rotan to beat the Third World out of us? To this day do we still not care about the environment or cleanliness? Is it just summons and fines that keep our disorderly Third World instincts at bay?

I don’t have a full answer but there are some clues; oBike is one. Trash is another. Citizens of just about every other developed country spend a lot of time and effort  recycling. Separating their waste into recyclable, organic matter etc. (just look at Japan or Germany) but in Singapore, we just pile it all together and hope someone else sorts it out.

That doesn’t seem a very First World solution but it is the reality and there are all sorts of other examples which suggest Singaporeans, despite our prosperity and successful education system etc., aren’t really as far ahead of our neighbours as we would like to think.

Maybe it is because  government policy, by emphasising a big stick, has prevented us from developing a sense of real social responsibility or maybe — returning to my initial point — we are just blessed with a higher per capita number of jerks?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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