With the worst of the pandemic behind us, a bustling public transport system is a reassuring symbol of increased mobility and return to normalcy. The close proximity of transit passengers in the enclosed spaces of buses and trains made maintaining a safe physical distance during COVID-19 lockdowns particularly challenging, spurring public health policies that restricted the use of public transportation.
These measures forced people to seek alternative modes of transport to get around, with many turning to bike-sharing networks as an easy and low-cost solution. Jie Song, a Senior Research Scientist at A*STAR’s Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC), and corresponding author Liye Zhang from the Shandong University of Science and Technology, China, led a three-year project in collaboration with the Land Transport Authority (LTA), to study how the pandemic influenced bike-share ridership in Singapore.
Bike-sharing systems consist of strategically placed docking stations in urban areas, where individuals can rent bicycles for short periods. As a part of their investigation, the researchers studied bike-share usage in commercial and residential areas during different stages of lockdown measures in Singapore.
Song and team saw a 150 percent uptick in ridership during Singapore’s ‘circuit breaker’ phase compared to pre-pandemic levels. During this period of heightened restrictions, bike-sharing activities in the downtown and waterfront areas rose dramatically; the concentration of riders occupying bike paths around residential and mixed-use urban areas also increased. From these findings, the researchers suggest that bike-sharing could be an important mode of transportation when public transit services are limited.
“Bike-sharing networks may be able to absorb additional travel demands due to the reduced capacities of public transit services while complying with social distancing requirements,” commented Song. Bike-sharing services are reliable and accessible first- and last-mile options which help support a resilient urban transportation system even during difficult times, Song elaborated.
While envisioning a future where Singapore’s bike-sharing systems can be easily adapted to cope with increased usage during infectious disease outbreaks, Song recommended that additional bikes can be deployed with stricter hygiene protocols during periods of higher frequency bike use.
Moreover, policymakers can use the lessons learned during the pandemic as an opportunity to promote a stronger year-round cycling culture. “Building a bike-share-friendly environment is key to sustaining the casual cyclists’ dependence upon this micro-mobility mode,” emphasised Song.
Moving forward, Song and colleagues plan to validate their findings using additional methods and bigger datasets. Gathering more data on mass transit usage during the pandemic will enable them to confirm the study’s hypotheses on bike-sharing as a primary mode of public transport during the pandemic.
The A*STAR-affiliated researchers contributing to this research are from the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC).