This green bike share startup fulfills Chiang Mai’s smart city vision.

Thailand’s Northern capital of Chiang Mai is famous for its laidback, slow-life charms. Fittingly, lively green bicycle docking stations branded Anywheel began popping up in the hip Nimman neighborhood and the old town. They belong to a Singaporean startup which seeks to reduce the growing car usage that threatens to ruin Chiang Mai’s quality of life. As the city now faces major challenges of traffic congestion and air quality, luring locals back to bikes is a daunting challenge for a startup of its size. To find out more, we travelled to Chiang Mai to meet Seet Rui Jie, the 29-year-old general manager of Anywheel Singapore, and understand how Chiang Mai can be reborn into a greener, smarter city.

The green service

Anywheel was founded by its current CEO, the entrepreneur Htay Aung. The company has been offering bike share services for more than three years in Singapore, Malaysia, and most recently in Thailand. Its goal is to provide a fun, affordable, and environmentally-friendly transport alternative. To do this, Anywheel works with both public and private entities to install bike docking stations, equipped with bikes that are durable and easy-to-use.

“We want people to be able to get to different parts of the city without a car and having to worry about finding a parking space, especially in areas that public transport doesn’t cover,” said Mr. Seet.

Anywheel kicked off its Thailand operation in Chiang Mai as it is relatively a small province where many people are already familiar with the concept of bike sharing. Currently, the service is concentrated in the city center, with about 150 docking stations already installed and more than 6,000 users per day. The company also installed another 150 docking stations at Chiang Mai University and plans to expand its services to other university campuses and industrial complexes.

“We focus on university campuses because we believe we should reach out to younger people first,” said Mr. Seet. Despite this, he added that Anywheel wishes everyone would use bike sharing more.

With the spread of COVID-19, urbanites everywhere have been avoiding using public transit. This has led to a huge increase in popularity for cycling since it is a way to maintain social distancing while staying fit. In Beijing, China, the use of bike share systems increased more than 150 percent (as stated by BBC), while in Jarkata, Indonesia, the number of bike users shot up 500 percent during the lockdown period (according to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy). In Chiang Mai, the number of Anywheel users grew 19 percent while the average daily use has increased from 1.5 times per day per bike to four times since March, reflecting changes in transport behavior during the crisis.

“I really hope that in the post-COVID era, locals and tourists will want to enjoy cycling and the scenery of Chiang Mai during the cool months,” Mr. Seet continued. “We know every year from January to March the air quality worsens, but I hope we can help improve the situation here.”

Chiang Mai Smart City

Chiang Mai Smart City Strategy Plan was drafted in 2019 in response to the Thailand 4.0 policy and its ambition to become a smart and sustainable city. The initiative tackles various issues, from smart agriculture, clean energy, infrastructure modernization, to knowledge management and smart mobility. Recently, the city has invested in more bike lanes, rolled out car-free days, and promoting low-carbon lifestyles. And a bike service like Anywheel can help fulfill this vision.

“We have been in discussion with Chiang Mai governor office since the end of last year. The province continues to develop a better-connected mass transport. For example, people can get off at a bus stop and switch to a bike. In the future, if they have to commute farther, they can take an electric tuktuk or electric bus,” said Mr. Seet. “To support this, we are working to connect our bike network with the public transport as smoothly as possible.”

To use Anywheel, users simply search for the nearest docking stations from the map built into the app and scan a QR code to unlock the bike. The base fare is 10 baht, while a monthly pass starts at 200 baht. It’s a convenient and affordable way to get around the city center, where important sites are located not too far away from each other.

“Users can easily find the nearest available docking stations and get the walking time and distance from their position,” stated Mr.Seet. “Our service is affordable because I believe people shouldn’t pay high prices to live an environmentally-conscious lifestyle.”

Internet of Everything

In the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), a vast number of electronic devices are connected to the internet and are actively streaming and sending data. These devices range from smart phones, home appliances, to smart vehicles and different types of sensors. It is forecasted that by 2030, there will be more than 100 billion IoT devices worldwide, averaging 15 devices per person. Aside from machine-to-machine communications, IoT also connects people, processes, and massive pools of data. And the business sector can harness the power of IoT to enhance consumer experiences and tailor even more relevant services.

dtac Business’s IoT SIM allows Anywheel to increase its reliability and the accuracy of its fleet management. Anywheel can monitor the real-time location of the bikes, collect usage statistics by area or time, and calculate riding distance. This also helps develop a seamless public transport network and Chiang Mai to achieve its smart city vision.

“dtac Business provides us with practical advice on connectivity solutions here in Thailand and offers a tailored plan that suits our needs, with sensible pricing,” said Mr. Seet. “The team has been with us from the development of a prototype to system testing and the delivery of the first 1,000 sim cards to the factory. This ensures that dtac Business will be a great consultant and grow together with us.”

Anywheel will continue to develop its application to better fit urban lifestyles and plans to expand its service to e-scooters, as it already does in Singapore and Malaysia, allowing commuters to cover longer distances.

“Our goal is to become a truly sustainable business. We sure plan to expand our fleet size, but we don’t want to go too far or focus only on how many times the app is downloaded,” said Mr.Seet. “We want to see our bikes really get used, and Anywheel become a household name for Chiang Mai. In the future, we also seek to expand our service to bigger cities, where public transport issues need to be addressed.”