Bike-shar­ing in Taipei

More peo­ple in taipei are us­ing bi­cy­cles pro­vided by the city to com­ple­ment their jour­neys by bus and mrt.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - OUTDOORS - By LEE SEOK HWAI

THE hottest prod­uct in food-mad and broad­band-needy Taipei th­ese days is the bi­cy­cle. Not any bi­cy­cle, but one of the 3,859 shiny two-wheel­ers of the YouBike bike-share scheme run by the mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment and Gi­ant, the world’s largest bike man­u­fac­turer based in cen­tral Tai­wan. The scheme’s pop­u­lar­ity shows how bi­cy­cles can be in­cor­po­rated into an ur­ban pub­lic trans­port sys­tem, by fill­ing in the gaps the sub­way and buses can­not reach.

At all hours of the day, res­i­dents can be seen at the 115 YouBike sta­tions across Taipei, push­ing out a bike to go to school or of­fice, to lunch, the mar­ket or that morn­ing tai qi rou­tine at the park.

All that is re­quired is a one-time, free reg­is­tra­tion us­ing a Tai­wan-reg­is­tered mo­bile phone and the EasyCard, Taipei’s ver­sion of Sin­ga­pore’s EZ-Link (or Malaysia’s Touch ’n Go).

Users swipe the card on check-out and re­turn of the bike, which can be done at any sta­tion. Reg­is­tered users are en­ti­tled to free use of YouBikes for the first 30 min­utes. Ev­ery sub­se­quent 30-minute block costs be­tween NT$10 (RM1.10) and NT$40 (RM4.40), de­pend­ing on to­tal us­age. For­eign­ers with­out a lo­cal phone can use any smart-chipped credit card, but must pay to use the bikes.

“I think it’s great, very con­ve­nient and easy to use,” says Liu Tzu-ling, a 21-yearold busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der­grad­u­ate, as she ma­noeu­vred a YouBike out of a stand out­side Gong­guan MRT sta­tion.

Liu started us­ing YouBike two months ago to move more quickly be­tween the sta­tion and her classes at the Na­tional Tai­wan Univer­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy. The trip takes her about two min­utes – less than half the time it takes on foot. And there is a YouBike stand at her univer­sity.

“I haven’t had to pay any­thing so far,” she added.

Another YouBike con­vert is re­tiree Chih Te-liang, 69. Chih said he rides the bi­cy­cle to buy gro­ceries, or sim­ply for re­lax­ation.

“As long as I don’t use it dur­ing the rush hours, I think it’s safe,” he said, re­fer­ring to the crowded traf­fic in Taipei.

Liu Chia-yu, spokesman for the Taipei city gov­ern­ment’s trans­port depart­ment, said that the YouBike fleet clocked a to­tal of 1.25 mil­lion pas­sen­ger trips last month, af­ter break­ing the one-mil­lion mark for the first time in Au­gust.

“We es­tab­lished YouBike to com­ple­ment our ex­ist­ing pub­lic trans­port net­work and en­cour­age res­i­dents to cut down on us­ing pri­vate ve­hi­cles. And that’s ex­actly the pur­pose it has served, by help­ing com­muters cover “awk­ward” dis­tances which are too short for a bus or MRT ride yet too far on foot,” said Liu.

The sys­tem costs the Taipei Gov­ern­ment NT$268mil (RM29mil) un­der a seven-year con­tract with Gi­ant.

Yet, not too long ago, YouBike was a ver­i­ta­ble white ele­phant. Launched in March 2009, the ser­vice orig­i­nally com­prised only 11 sta­tions, all in the Xinyi fi­nan­cial dis­trict. Users were charged NT$40 (RM4.40) up­front for the use of a bike for a day. As a re­sult, the ser­vice logged an av­er­age of just 5,000 trips each month last year.

“Our opin­ion sur­veys showed that the scale of YouBike was too lim­ited to be ef­fec­tive,” said Liu. “The pub­lic also didn’t like that they had to use their iden­tity cards and another iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ment, like the driv­ing li­cence, to reg­is­ter as mem­bers.”

The sys­tem was tweaked ac­cord­ingly and YouBike was re­launched in Au­gust last year at 30 sta­tions in Xinyi and four more dis­tricts.

Spurred by YouBike’s suc­cess, neigh­bour­ing New Taipei City, Taichung and Tainan, in cen­tral and south­ern Tai­wan re­spec­tively, are ex­pected to launch their own bike-share schemes next year.

But there are prob­lems too. Taipei, the most densely pop­u­lated city in Tai­wan with 2.6 mil­lion res­i­dents, has few ded­i­cated bi­cy­cle lanes and too much ve­hi­cle traf­fic. YouBike users of­ten ride on crowded side­walks, vy­ing for space with pedes­tri­ans.

None­the­less, As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor Chiou Yu-chiun at the Na­tional Chiao Tung Univer­sity in Hs­inchu City be­lieves this prob­lem will be re­solved as res­i­dents get into the habit of cy­cling.

“Pre­vi­ous ef­forts to set up cy­cling lanes fell through be­cause there was lit­tle de­mand for them. I’m sure this will change in fu­ture,” he said. – The Straits Times, Sin­ga­pore/Asia News Net­work

u-bike is taipei’s bike rental sys­tem. It shows how bi­cy­cles can com­ple­ment buses/mrt in a pub­lic trans­port sys­tem.

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