Dockless bike service coming to Phuket

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha takes a ride on an Ofo smart-lock bicycle at Digital Thailand Big Bang.

Beijing-based Ofo, the world’s largest dockless bike-sharing platform, will begin offering service in Phuket through 1,000 smart-lock bikes.

The programme, operated in conjunction with Phuket city development, kicks off Oct 1.

Ofo Thailand general manager Noppol Toochinda said the pilot programme in Phuket will support the island’s smart city initiative. Once the scheme is launched, residents of the city will receive a one-month free trial without deposit fees.

Ofo is designed for point-to-point travel in the range of one to five kilometres.

Ofo and similar services tout reduced travel costs and fewer parking problems in heavy-traffic areas. Bikes can be found through Ofo’s mobile app and unlocked with a QR code. Designated parking locations are also displayed in the app.

Ofo’s price undercuts most transport services in Phuket and in Bangkok. Its regular service is five baht per 30 minutes, with a deposit fee of 99 baht. All fees are processed within the application.

Ofo is currently valued at north of US$2 billion (66.2 billion baht). It received $700 million this year in a fund-raising round led by Alibaba. Ofo’s bike-sharing services began just three years ago.

Ofo has a presence in 170 cities across nine countries, with more than 10 million bicycles under its belt.

While the application generates more than 25 million daily transactions, it faces stiff competition on its home turf, primarily from Tencent-backed Mobike, which raised $215 million in a Series D fund-raising round in January.

Mr Noppol said Thailand is considered a strategic node in Ofo’s Southeast Asia expansion plan. The country boasts one of the deepest markets in the region, with a population close to 70 million and more than 700,000 students, plus 7 million or more Chinese tourists each year.

Ofo launched a 1,000-bike pilot service on the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University in August.

“The Phuket project will be the first bike-sharing initiative in a public area in Thailand,” Mr Noppol said. “The company will also use the city as a testing ground for new bike models that are unlocked through a QR code.”

In the first phase, the initial 1,000-bike batch will be distributed in busy locations such as Prince of Songkla University’s Phuket campus, the Phuket Merlin Hotel, the Pearl Phuket Hotel, the Tint At Phuket Town Hotel, Limelight Avenue Phuket, Seng Ho Bookstore, Robinson Department Store, Bang Neaw shrine, Phuket Rajabhat University, Saphan Hin Park and Old Phuket Town.

The programme may get a boost from Phuket’s car-free day tomorrow.

“We would like to invite Phuket residents and tourists to be part of this activity by stopping use of cars and trying the Ofo bicycle service,” Mr Noppol said. “Apart from helping our planet, it is also the first time that Phuket residents will experience the new journey with Ofo bikes, which have created a new cycling phenomenon around the world.”

Ofo said it plans future expansion in Thailand and will follow a “clear course of action focusing on collaboration with relevant government agencies, from preparation to implementation, in order to develop a solid infrastructure network and sustainable transport systems”.

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