More people in Taipei are using bicycles provided by the city to complement their journeys by bus and MRT.
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-year-old 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