Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An expat's view of cycling in Singapore

I was sharing my experience of promoting the use of folding bike at work. One of my expat colleague share with me his perspective of cycling in Singapore.
I don't agree with everything he said, but some of his views based on his experience in Japan, Holland and now Singapore is indeed refreshing:

"I was reflecting on cultures that have higher usage of cycles and ahead of Singapore in the affluence wave – Japan and Holland (China is losing its cycling culture in its burgeoning affluence). On the weather I think there are different conditions for cycling for fun and cycling for transport. Whilst Singapore might be more suited to casual cycling it’s less suited to transport cycling as you would need to shower at your destination to be appropriate. Whilst there are a number of weather factors in Singapore that generally appear more welcoming to cycling it would seem that the self-consciousness of Singaporeans is likely not to change any time soon. Also the city’s lack of flexibility toward community changes and thus any change in the number of cyclists is unlikely to change the design of urban corridors and public transport infrastructure in favour of cycles whilst there is a substantial government reliance on oil-based taxes and investment in said industry infrastructure. Something about Japan and Holland is that cycles are accommodated at all manner of destinations and by dedicated paths/lanes or under law (in Japan cyclists have right of way on larger vehicles). Whilst the two cultures have a very different attitude to theft that doesn’t impede on the viability of such transport.

Also the very real lack of care shown by Singaporean drivers and bystanders means that the cost of accident or collision is far greater than one would experience elsewhere. When I have seen cyclists hit in Australia and Japan, people rush to their aid, here people stand by and watch. Also if you’re lucky enough to end up at hospital the first thing you meet is a cashier not a nurse. I’m only beginning to understand this but Singapore’s cultural selfishness in both self-preservation and self-defense means there are a number of industries and pastimes like cycling that have a slim adoption.

I think that the folding option is a decent workaround for the lack of affordance offered to cyclists in Singapore yet it’s not a mass adoption candidate. If say even 10% of people were to take up such a cycle then there would be a noticeable negative difference in the space on the train and whilst shopping in malls.

I’m not trying to be a sour sport but if there was any country in the world that could make an concerted push toward everyone cycling and also switching the entire country to electric vehicles it would be Singapore but it seems that people’s desire for money and status here is too strong for that to change in the short term.

Ok that’s my take at the moment, it might change with time but I do think it’s pretty cool that you’ve got such a tight and viable business happening. I hope it grows too because we need more people exercising!"

Well, wouldn't it be wonderful that the folding bike creates a congestion problem in the MRT?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

LTA extends trial to allow folding bikes on MRT and Buses

I was delighted to be amongst the first to learn that the "folding bike trial on MRT/Bus" will be extended beyond the original deadline of 24 Nov 2008 — this was revealed during a meeting organized by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in which sought feedback directly from foldable bike users for their experience on public transport. Together with Vivian and Steven from Diginexx (distributors of Strida and Carryme), the views of some 600 folding bike users in Singapore were represensative.

In the past, most users do not bring their folding bike onto public transport, and they cite the non-peak hour limitation and road danger as the two main reasons.

However, thanks to this LTA trial, foladable bike users experimented with bringing their bikes onto the MRT and buses were pleasantly surprised: "Bus drivers and MRT personnel are pleasant toward folding bike users," said Sun, a foldable bike user. "On the roads, I can see SMRT drivers are more cautious toward cyclists," she said.

Even riders who do not use public transport regularly find it very handy when it rains — they skip riding and take refuge in the comfort of the MRT or public buses, or engage in the more pricy option - taxis.

However, there still are shortcomings. The obvious one is the time restriction to off-peak hour as well as road dangers. A typical problem is the difficulty of getting onto a crowded bus - foldable bike users have to squeeze through the narrow passage of the bus aisle to reach the open space allocated to wheelchair use, at the rear of the bus. The obvious solution? Allow foldable bike users to board from the rear of the bus, so that fewer people will be inconvenienced.

A less common problem is that off-peak hours are no longer peaceful these days — the MRT trains can be very crowded even then, mainly due to increased ridership and the longer intervals between trains during such times. However, foldable bike users who do not want to be a nuisance to fellow-MRT passengers are hardly able to find a less empty cariage! I have waved off two trains on occasion, until a third, less crowded, train arived. But mostly I find I am able to get on the first time — I suppose not all sections and stops are the same,

JZ88 users suggested that a suitable space be created inside specific MRT cabins—in the meantime, a couple of seats in a designated cabin can be removed and the space labelled "For folding bicycles and bulky objects". This arrangement is not too difficult but can circumvent potential conflict before folding bikes get more popular.

In Europe and Taiwan, folding bikes play an important and complimentary role to mass public transport. One can travel a long distance on public tansport and then cycle to one's destination. This convenience is a money-saving combination which does not produce any pollution, requires very little road space yet is a healthier option for the rider.

A pro-folding bike and bicyle policy can help LTA to achieve the goal of increase the ridership of public transport and ultimately reduce private car use. Compared to shuttle buses for short distances, the bicycle has the avantage of being a personal and door-to-door solution. You can reach destinations within two kilometres in just 7 minutes, and eliminates the need to wait for transport and the need to walk to a station.

Incorporating bicyle use in our transport strategy can immediately increase the "catchment zone" of a transport hub by 20~25 times! This is because cycling is about 4 to 5 times faster than walking. This is a better solution thatn solely relying on a shuttle bus system and can help to relief the pressure along some bus routes.

In order to get a balanced view LTA indicated that they need to take into consideration the needs of all stakeholders. This is why they have extended the "folding bike trial on MRT/Bus" untill all feedback are heard.

I was impressed that LTA members were interested in my suggestion to calm the traffic and create a "safety zone" near schools and MRT stations. Their attitude indicates that they are working genuinely towards a total solution rather than pushing the ball around.

Moving forward, I am optimistic that LTA is planning ahead for the increased use of folding bike in public transport. Let's keep our fingers crossed. Next February at the very latest, an official announcement will be made by LTA about their position regarding foldable bicycles on public transport.