George Town is the capital city of Penang state, which is an island located in the North of Malaysia. This city experienced continuous growth since the 19th century thanks to the British crown colonization and the British East India Company. That is why the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, the urban area counts more than 1 million inhabitants and its economy is based on high-tech manufacturing and tourism.
The administrative independence of Penang state is a clear asset to companies’ autonomy, with more reactivity and less constraints. This freedom is not only interesting for private sector, but also for public policies. The state has especially led for several years a demanding environmental policy: Greener Cleaner Penang is the road map for the Penang to restore the living environment to deliver a cleaner and greener city, and improve the quality of life. From the beginning, these initiatives had shown good results.
One issue is still particularly disturbing for the quality of life and environment in George Town: cars congestion. To fight that, the government launched in 2016 a project call to implement a bike sharing program in the city center. LinkBike was chosen to manage this project, mandated by the government, for a 3 years period. We met one member of the LinkBike team: Rendy Ooi, Marketing Executive, and he explained us all the particularities of this initiative.
George Town is a very convenient city to implement this kind of mobility solution because the area is small and flat: bikes are very easy to use. Furthermore, there was already some bike paths crossing the city before the project call, which is an exception in South East Asia. The project implementation (cost, urban plan, safety…) was thus highly facilitated.
Today, LinkBike system counts 170 bikes in 25 stations and 100 to rent. The bikes are bought in pieces in China and assembled in Penang office. It is the first bike share system with stations in Malaysia. It is interesting to know others systems had been used before, like in Kuala Lumpur, but the government had to ban them because the system had not stations and bikes were let in the middle of streets.
This public interest project is mandated to the private company FastRentBike, who's the founder is an IT developer and was originally involved in Greener Cleaner Penang. Several companies competed to the project call and this one had been selected by the local authorities to manage it. The state financially controls this program to be nonprofit activity with the public subsidies. In addition to this service to the community, the company offer a service for whose they can have benefits: bikes rent for public or private events like team building.
The functioning of the system is quite simple and similar to others bike share systems. First, you have to find on the app' or on the website the closest bike station to your starting point and check if bikes are available in that station. Then, you can pay and unlock a bike from the docking with your app’s or with a personal subscription card. Finally, you have to lock again the bike on the closest station of your arrival point.
One of the main user targets of this system is workers who usually drive their car in congestion times, to go lunch for example. Another target is students, because they are many in Penang and it is a cheap alternative to the bus to go to universities: first 30 min free and less than 0,50 USD for one day.
One of the development brakes of this system is get people involved to use bikes because in many cities in Malaysia riding bicycles is not easy, even not always safe. That is why education in schools is a key work point to increase the number of bike users in the city. Events and workshops are organized by FastRentBike all year on benefits using bikes like healthy lifestyle and environment.
WHAT NOW ?
LinkBike program plans to keep developing bike stations in George Town and increase the system covering area. Next stations will be installed near Penang universities because there is high user potential.
The company FastRentBike began to extend its system into Langkawi Island, a very touristic place in Malaysia. One particularity of this new project to improve the user experience is that bikes will be electrics and very light.
The company is also continuing the education part in schools and during public events. The fact of taking a bike in a station and not just let it anywhere after using it, is not logical for everyone’s.
The specific situation of Penang, with a favorable economy and a regulated urbanism make this place a very good laboratory for urban mobility solutions in South East Asia. The bike share system seems to be more and more accepted and used, mainly thanks to its competitive cost compared to taxi and its ease of use. One thing is very interesting in this initiative is the private public partnership to implement technical solutions in public space with a renewed tender system. However, a certain risk remains if the mandated structure is not renewed. Its business model might be threatened and bike share system might be changed if the handover does not go well. One thing is sure, the bike share system is set to grow more and more in the big cities of the world!