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Sport and Outdoors

Obike pulls out of Singapore and I can't get my deposit back

First it cheated my feelings. Now it wants my money?

obike.jpg

The relationship was a short one, but fun while it lasted.

Aloysius Low/CNET

When Obike first arrived in Singapore -- along with other bike-sharing operators -- I tried it and recorded our breakup in this heartwrenching post. Fast-forward a year later, it's leaving Singapore -- and taking my money with it.

Singapore-based Obike announced it's pulling out of Singapore in a Facebook post that caught its users by surprise on Sunday, saying its decision was driven by "difficulties foreseen" as a result of new laws by the city-state's Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Users expressing their frustration on Facebook. 

Screengrab by Zoey Chong/CNET

In March, the LTA passed new laws requiring bike-sharing operators to obtain a licence designed to control their fleet sizes. This included new fees and a three-strike policy that temporarily bars repeat offenders from using shared bikes if they park their bike in an unregistered public space.

Bike operators were given until July 7 to apply for a licence, failing which they will have to shut down operations. The new rules were passed in order to fight abuse and regulate the unsightly mess caused by the dockless bike-sharing scheme, which allows users to leave the bikes anywhere after use.

Several users demanded for the company to return their deposits using a hashtag that read #refundmydeposit after Obike's post went live on Facebook.

On Twitter, the ire was strong too:

Meanwhile, CNET editor Aloysius Low has successfully sent a request for his refund. I, on the other hand, can't even see the "Refund Deposit" button on my app:

Looks like Aloysius will be getting his money back (left). No such luck for me though (right).

Screengrab by Aloysius Low and Zoey Chong/CNET

Obike isn't the first to hit the brakes -- Gbikes in Singapore announced it will cease operations once LTA's new rules kick in. It might not be the last either, as governments across the world seek to regulate the bike-sharing community in their countries. Obike's exit could also signal the beginning of a consolidation in the industry, according to Dr. Walter Theseira, a transport economist at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

"I think the move to pull out is the start of consolidation in the industry, which was likely to happen without government regulations. There are too many players and it's unclear if the industry can be profitable for all but the largest firms, because of economies of scale. So LTA's new rules have given a kickstart to the consolidation process," said Theseira.

Obike was not immediately available for a comment.

When contacted, the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) told CNET it received 164 complaints from 1 Jan. to 26 June 2018, 11 a.m., against Obike concerning a failure to receive a refund of their deposit despite requesting for it "several months prior."

"CASE will follow up with oBike on this matter and urge consumers with unresolved disputes to contact us for further assistance. Meanwhile, consumers who had made payment via credit card to the bike operator within the last 120 days can consider lodging a chargeback claim with their card issuer as soon as possible," it added.

And while Obike has referred users who wish to continue using its bikes to Grabcycle, the bike sharing marketplace launched by ride-hailing giant Grab, Grab told CNET it won't be offering Obikes on its platform anymore.

"We understand that oBike has decided to cease operations in Singapore due to their difficulties in meeting regulatory guidelines. This means that we will no longer be able to offer oBike's bicycles on the GrabCycle marketplace effective today, as oBike will not have the appropriate bike-sharing license to operate in Singapore, nor will they be maintaining their fleet of bicycles."

The company has also halted new user signups in the meantime -- no reason has been given yet -- although it will waive subscription fees and deposits for existing users, as well as offer them a complimentary four-week trial to test services provided by bike-sharing partner Anywheel.

First published June 24, 12:45 p.m. PT.

Update, 10:40 p.m.: Adds comments from Dr. Walter Theseira, CASE and Obike.

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