Bike-sharing business needs govt support
ZHAI HAIJUN/CHINA DAILY
Bicycle-sharing companies have put more than 200,000 yellow and orange bicycles into service in Beijing in the past month. To use a bike for 1 yuan ($0.15) per hour, you have to download the app of any of the companies, pay a few hundred yuan as refundable deposit, and scan the code on a bike to unlock or lock it.
The bikes are popular among commuters, many of whom use them to cover the distance between subway stations or bus stops and office or home. But the lack of bicycle parking lots－most of which have made way for car parking lots－poses a challenge to cyclists.
The disorderly parking of such bikes at street corners has created a problem for chengguan, urban administrative officers, who are not enough in numbers to manage the cyclists and tell them to park the bikes at the right place. Chengguan in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan province, confiscated hundreds of such bikes in November because they were "illegally encroaching upon public place". But bike-sharing remains popular in Chengdu three months later.
Local governments in Beijing, Shenzhen and Nanjing are seeking public opinions to draft rules to regulate the bike-sharing business while other cities wait to learn from the first-tier cities' experiences. Thankfully, the authorities in the first-tier cities have not taken steps as extreme as the Chengdu chengguan.
The bike-sharing business is environment friendly and supplements the urban public transport system. The new business model, which has its roots in mobile internet apps, is not only an innovative but also a symbolic representation of the rise in public awareness about a greener lifestyle.
It is also in line with the government's philosophy of green, sharing and innovative development. Unlike the car-hailing service, which faces resistance because it affects the taxi industry's interests and increases traffic problems, the bike-sharing business deserves greater government support.
Hangzhou in East China's Zhejiang province and Zhangjiagang in neighboring Jiangsu province are successfully operating government-funded bike-renting systems for nearly a decade even while the sale of cars greatly increased during that period. This shows bicycles and cars can coexist peacefully so long as local authorities devise a set of rules that encourage the growth of the bike-sharing business.
To begin with, local governments should set a ceiling for shared bikes. The ceiling will not only help maintain public order but also prevent cut-throat competition among bike-sharing operators.
Second, the competition among the operators should be on the technological and service fronts, not in the number of bicycles. For instance, the government could instruct the companies to ensure they use technology to regulate the cyclists' behaviors and compel them to park the bikes in parking lots.
And third, apart from building more parking lots and bicycle lanes, the government should also, for instance, ask the bike-sharing operators to record users' irresponsible behaviors and accordingly deduct points from their personal credit records.
Once known as the "Kingdom of Bicycles", China has the experience of bicycle management. And it can use that experience to create a bike-friendly environment in the country once again to promote an eco-friendly transport system in cities.
The author is a writer with China Daily. email@example.com