Pedal Ubin – why we switched our M. O.

Pedal Ubin – Monthly rides?!
When the Ubin Journeys series of public education rides were redesigned as Pedal Ubin and stocked with new guides by late 2003, I was surprised by their suggestion of monthly rides.

It was partly suggested to enable the many guides an opportunity to guide. Also, there was an idealism to provide an event regularly every month and to alternate between Saturdays and Sundays.

Eventually I felt that they may as well try this while they were still eager. After all, who knows how it’d turn out. And guides who turned up regularly would quickly become experienced.

Stress, stress!
This year, I talked to Project Supervisor Airani and Project Manager Kaixin separately and together and confirmed that after three years, the monthly rides were the cause of some distress! Mind you, it took some interrogation to eek out this confession – Kaixin, especially, is a long-suffering sort of character, not given to complaint.

Publicity and signups
The monthly rides were so frequent, project managers kept forgetting to alert Kenneth and myself to advertise the rides. I had not advertised widely partly because I had felt uncomfortable about sending out monthly adverts. That frequently, our news would soon be regarded as spam!

Still, enough people were somehow finding the website and signing up. Initially the relatively low numbers worked out but absentees would mess up our guide: participant ratio.

Absentee registrants solved!
Every month, excess guides were turning up at Changi Jetty in the early morning for nothing – all because of absentee registrants! This was infuriating but unfortunately, many public events suffer from this anti-social behaviour by an irresponsible minority of the public.

The no show element messed up our roster. After consulting with other volunteer managers, I tried something – initiate a minimal payment of $10. The guides met participants at Changi Jetty, organised them into groups of 13, paid for their bumboat crossing and similarly negotiated bicycle rental and helped them choose bikes.

But it worked! Zero absentees!

But this was no easy solution. Raffles Museum is not well setup for public payments and the process required painful and inconvenient adjustments which eventually required Ivan to drop in at the museum every month to settle paperwork on his off-days. Inconvenient and complicated.

Also, charging for an event went against the grain of the Toddycats too, even though we were operating at a loss. The museum paid for the difference which wasn’t much.

The roster that failed
Kaixin was juggling a roster in which guides needed turn up at least four times a year. But which four months would this be? The roster commitment was difficult for guides to honour too far ahead of time, so it was a headache waiting for guide confirmations each month. The roster was a nice idea, not practical and had become a painful process!

Not all help is helpful
The guides were helping participants chose their bicycles in Ubin and although this was helpful, I felt we were denying participants the opportunity of exploring the village, figuring out how to rent a bike and bargain! That part of the Ubin experience was being facilitated away by the guides, and I felt that was not necessarily a good thing.

Monopoly is not ideal
We stuck with one shop with a helpful proprietor who even offered to pick up and replace problem bikes by van. But his bikes got worse after time, and other shops were friendly too and deserved some business too.

Free, quarterly rides
After some further observation and the consultation with Airani and Kaixin, I decided to switch to quarterly rides. The first Saturday of the first month in every quarter was now reserved for Pedal Ubin and it would not clash with any other Toddycats event.

With Pedal Ubin conducted only four times a year,

  • All guides are required to turn up for ALL the rides – no more wondering about guide availability.
  • The mailing list is programmed with quarterly reminders.
  • Guides unable to commit would have to be dropped and participants numbers reduced accordingly – less stress for project managers.
  • Notices of each rides could be publicised through all our usual channels without being a nuisance!
  • Registration would once again be free.
  • Over-subscribe registration (80 pax) since 20% at least would not to turn up – the remaining numbers would result in a satisfying ride for all.

First quarterly ride today, what worked?
Pre-ride issues

  • We advertised a month in advance.
  • We used the usual publicity channels – people said they heard about it via NUS IVLE (student notice board), NUS Staff circular, Habitatnews mailing list and webpage, word of mouth via friends, blogs, WildSingapore, etc. We need to add this question to a web-based registration form.
  • We should have advertised a closing date.
  • Kaixin said registration was relatively easily but I must try to find her some help.
  • We are switching the registration email to the museum gmail account and the participants spreadsheet to Google Spreadsheets, so a few of us can cross-check or help out.

The ride

  • Guides turned up at the Ubin Volunteer Hub – with no other work to do, they had a relaxing breakfast!
  • Participants had to choose, negotiate and bargain in Ubin Village. That was good fun for them, and more bicycle shops had business this morning.
  • About 45 of the 80 registered participants turned up: that’s a 56% attendance! The guide ratio? Turned out to be 2-3 guides per 11-12 participants; a lovely, manageable proportion!
  • Guides who felt they were shaky on content helped as last man or simply rode amongst participants and chatted with them – both of these are important support roles.
  • Airani despatched participants to four corners of the old basketball court, and it worked quite efficiently.
  • The guides I observed emphasised cycling safety and techinique early and efficiently.

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