Circle around the neighbourhood, and one would observe that bicycles under the vehicle-sharing model can be found parked outside schools, construction sites, and other populated areas. Yet, the return policy for companies, such as oBike, states that these bicycles are to be returned to the designated public bicycle parking coils, usually situated beside an MRT station.

Abuses under the bike sharing economy may stem from the anonymity of users. Names and identification of users are not disclosed to other users for privacy matters. This, however, can result in the lack of accountability, allowing users to shirk the responsibility of having to take care of these bicycles.

Moreover, sightings of shared bicycles being left around in places other than the designated areas reinforce the social norm that it is permissible to do so, encouraging other users to also break rules for their own convenience.

To prevent abuses of this sort, companies have resorted to imposing fines and penalties. oBike, a local bike-sharing company, developed a community-policing system where users are awarded points for reporting on poor behaviors by other users. Point are deducted for poor behaviors. These points in turn determined how much they would be charged for the service.

This carrot-and-stick approach coheres well with the practices in Singapore, which has been adopted in many other respects, including students’ academic performance and the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) for national servicemen.

Yet abuses still occur in the day. This perhaps suggests that the convenience in conforming to the social norm strongly outweighs the incentives for doing otherwise. Many users choose to remain indifferent when other users exhibit poor behavior. This could be because such behaviors coincidentally benefit the others. Parking in non-designated areas may mean that bicycles can be more readily accessible for them.

As a strongly economized society, it may be inevitable that we see a loss of communal sense of sharing. Companies thus have to continually innovate ideas to circumvent this challenge.

Thus far, companies have not stepped up in this respect. One way to prevent abuses of these shared bicycles is to comment on the behaviors of individual users. Research has shown that, in face of a pervasive social norm, one way to encourage people to do the right thing is to appraise their behaviors. Complimenting one when they have rightly disregarded a social norm encourages them to continue to do so; showing disapproval when they have conformed reminds them that the social norm is unacceptable.

Written by Dr. Joel Yang