A bicycle rental kiosk that rents bicycles for free at Dafangjia Hutong has received a rousing reception from Beijing residents since its trial run started nearly five months ago, but the bicycle rental kiosk that charges fees for renting bicycles at the entrance of the Guloudajie Subway Station is extremely unpopular, and business has been dire. An official from the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport said on August 2 that the number of bicycle rental kiosks in Beijing will be increased to 500 in 2012. Experts suggest that the government should continue with pilot runs of bicycle renting businesses before building more rental kiosks.
Bicycle rental kiosks will be built next to new subway stations
According to statistics from the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport, nearly 40 percent of the city’s residents take public transportation as their first choice when going out. Among them, the majority takes short trips within 5 kilometers, and the bicycle is just perfect for short-distance traveling. To encourage people to ride bicycles, Beijing will have about 500 rental kiosks renting a total of more than 20,000 bicycles in 2012 and 1,000 rental kiosks renting more than 50,000 bicycles in 2015. The municipal government aims to increase the proportion of cyclists to 23 percent by 2015.
Bicycle rental kiosks and parking spots are mainly located in the city center, public transportation centers, and transfer stations. In addition, bicycle rental kiosks will also be built next to the newly opened subway lines.
An official from the municipal traffic authority said that demonstration zones will be built in western Zhongguancun, Guomao area, and Guangnei Street in order to show how eco-friendly walking and cycling are.
Sharp difference between free rental kiosks and those that charge fees
The bicycle renting business has emerged in some places of Beijing. However, due to the different management patterns, different rental kiosks have strikingly different experiences.
The Dafangjia Hutong rental kiosks began renting bicycles as a public welfare service in March this year. No fees are charged, and residents can use their service freely as long as they have a special card named “Cheng Xin” (referring to integrity).
At 8 a.m. on August 2, only three bicycles were left at the rental kiosks on the western side of Dafangjia Hutong. Ms. Zhang, who lives nearby, took a bicycle away in only 5 seconds by taking the Cheng Xin card out of her bag and swiping the card. Six minutes later, she reached her destination and then parked the bicycle at the southeastern corner of the Dongsi Crossroad. It took her half a minute to walk to the entrance of the Subway Line 5.
"I could not commute to work so easily in the past. It took me more than half an hour to walk from where I live to the subway. I was afraid of losing my bicycle if I went to work by bike,” said Ms. Zhang. “Since the bicycle renting service started in the community, almost all my neighbors have applied for the Cheng Xin card because it is really convenient for us to go to buy vegetables, go to work and go back home. It is just like I have a private mini car."
Currently, these free, no-deposit bicycle rental spots are located in Chaoyangmen Street and people can return and rent bicycles at four rental kiosks. An official said these rental kiosks have only started operations for less than half a year, but nearly 600 people have applied for Cheng Xin cards. Each of the 80 bicycles is rented about six to eight times per day.
However, the rental kiosk near the subway station at Gulou Street had a totally different experience. The sign of renting bicycle is hidden on the eaves of the kiosk, and eight bicycles are huddling together closely, with a plate introducing the rental service on the bikes.
"Do you want to rent a bicycle?" Seeing the reporter reading the rental introduction, the bicycle keeper leaned out of the window and said, “The deposit is 400 yuan, the rental fee for four hours is 20 yuan and for 24 hours is 40 yuan. We are open for 24 hours a day and you can return it at any time. If you don’t have enough money, we can negotiate about the price.”
The reporter observed the kiosk for half an hour and nobody came. “More often than not, I cannot even rent one bicycle a day,” said the frustrated bicycle keeper.
According to a notice published in late 2009 on the adjustment of rental kiosks on the official website of the Beikelantu Company that runs the bicycle renting business, 46 rental kiosks were suspended, including bicycle kiosks in the normally crowded Sihui and Dongdan areas. According to media reports, there once were more than 100 rental kiosks covering major transport hubs with 8,000 bicycles ready for rental. Because the company had to pay a large quantity of money to its employees and the government did not introduce any support policies, therefore, the company suffered fund shortage and cancelled more than half of its rental kiosks, with only over 4,000 bicycles and over 20 kiosks left.
Government should guide the development of the bicycle renting business
"It is eco-friendly and healthy for people to travel by bicycle. As a super large city, Beijing still needs more bicycles. The cost for free bicycle renting service is really high," said Guo Jifu, director of Beijing Transportation Research Center. He exemplified that one bicycle would cost over one thousand yuan a year and travel demands of different areas vary. He suggested that Beijing should not promote bicycle renting business all at the same time, and related departments should conduct pilot runs after comprehensive analysis of costs and other necessary aspects.
Experts show that renting bicycles can help improve traffic conditions, not to mention that bicycles cost less than other transportation tools. Therefore, the government should guide the development of the bicycle renting business, and conduct trial runs in Wenbao District, Xincheng District, and other areas near subway stations.