Lessons ofHangzhou’s bike rental sys­tem

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Among the many thought­ful ser­vices Hangzhou, cap­i­tal of East China’s Zhe­jiang province, will of­fer dur­ing the G20 Lead­ers’ Sum­mit on Sept 4-5, the im­proved bi­cy­cle rental ser­vice is a cherry on the top.

Among the 38,000 bi­cy­cles, about 10,000 newones em­bla­zoned with the G20 logo have re­port­edly been put into ser­vice at many bi­cy­cle stands around the city to pro­vide “a safer and more com­fort­able cy­cling ex­pe­ri­ence” for vis­i­tors. Aside from the new bi­cy­cle stands made of stain­less steel and alu­minum bas­kets, Hangzhou will also add an ex­clu­sive QR code to every bike on of­fer at 100 ser­vice points. This will al­low bor­row­ers to get a bike sim­ply by scan­ning it. And some bike stands near ho­tels and meet­ing venues will be equipped with bilin­gual no­tices and an English au­dio sys­tem.

Ef­forts like th­ese are not part of some van­ity projects just for the G20 sum­mit. The bi­cy­cle rental ser­vice has be­come an es­sen­tial part ofHangzhou res­i­dents’ daily life over the past eight years. Since it be­gan trial oper­a­tions in 2008, at least 84,100 bi­cy­cles have been rented about 665 mil­lion times, and a pub­lic bi­cy­cle can be used up to 37 times a day.

Some 175 cities across China, as far as Tacheng in­North­west China’s Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, have been in­spired to em­u­lateHangzhou’s bike rental sys­tem. But not many of them have been as im­pres­sive in ex­e­cut­ing their plans, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, which was ar­guably the first Chi­nese city to in­tro­duce a bi­cy­cle rental sys­tem.

The lack of avail­able bikes, ris­ing main­te­nance costs and the fre­quent dam­age the bikes suf­fer have been haunt­ing many cities des­per­ate to re­duce traf­fic jams by pro­mot­ing green travel. Only Taiyuan, cap­i­tal of North China’s Shanxi province, could im­prove onHangzhou’s ex­am­ple. But since its op­er­a­tion re­lies to­tally on the lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s fi­nan­cial sup­port, it is un­likely to sus­tain for long.

Hangzhou, on the other hand, makes a yearly profit of more than 20 mil­lion yuan ($3 mil­lion) just by sell­ing its ex­per­tise in the bike rental ser­vice to other cities. Plus the ad­ver­tise­ment fees col­lected from com­pa­nies that seek to use bike stands for their off­line cam­paigns, the city’s pub­lic bi­cy­cle sys­tem can ef­fort­lessly make ends meet while con­tin­u­ing to pro­vide more bikes and bet­ter ser­vices both to lo­cals and tourists.

Other cities aspir­ing to im­prove their trans­porta­tion sys­tems should learn two things fromHangzhou’s suc­cess. First, is pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship, or PPP. TheHangzhou lo­cal gov­ern­ment did sup­port and pro­vide sub­si­dies for the pub­lic bi­cy­cle rental op­er­a­tion in the ini­tial stages, but what kept the ser­vice afloat and even­tu­ally made it self­sus­tain­ing is the sell­ing of ex­per­tise and ad­ver­tis­ing fees.

Be­sides, theHangzhou Pub­lic Bi­cy­cle Trans­porta­tion and Ser­vice De­vel­op­ment Co, which runs the city’s pub­lic bi­cy­cle rental sys­tem, is af­fil­i­ated to the lo­cal pub­lic trans­porta­tion group. That guar­an­tees its daily op­er­a­tion is un­der pro­fes­sional su­per­vi­sion and main­te­nance, and pro­vides pub­lic ser­vice in a mar­ket-ori­ented man­ner.

The other les­son is mak­ing the most use of lo­cal re­sources and ad­van­tages. As a cel­e­brated tourism des­ti­na­tion, Hangzhou is home to a slew of nat­u­ral and cul­tural at­trac­tions that can­not be ac­cessed by cars. Rid­ing bi­cy­cles had be­come a pop­u­lar and less ex­pen­sive mode of trans­port for many tourists be­fore the city got its metro in 2012.

In me­trop­o­lises like Bei­jing and Shanghai, which have well­func­tion­ing pub­lic trans­porta­tion net­works, many com­muters have to com­mute a long dis­tance for work and are more likely to choose the sub­way. But they would be happy to see bi­cy­cle stands near the metro sta­tions and their homes. The pro­mo­tion of pub­lic bi­cy­cle rental busi­ness, nev­er­the­less, should de­pend on the ac­tual de­mand, not ad­min­is­tra­tive or­ders.

The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. cuishoufeng@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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