New bike hire system in Taipei

taipei bike sharing system

Today I went to check out Taipei City’s new public bike rental system which is marketed under the name U-bike. The system is currently operating at five stations in the Xinyi Special District (信義特區). Six more stations will open on 11 April and there are plans to extend the system further after that.

Taipei is not the first city in Taiwan to have such a system. Kaohsiung started its own system at the beginning of this month. Bike sharing schemes are becoming more common in cities around the world. Paris’s Velib system is probably the most well known. I recommend The Bike-Sharing Blog if you want to learn more about them. The basic idea of the systems is that bicycles are made available for hire at zero or minimal cost at multiple locations around the city. This encourages people to use to bikes for short trips rather than cars or, in Taipei’s case, motorcycles.

taipei-u-bike-station

The hiring stations look easy to use. You just wave your card over the sensor and then you can remove the bike. I wish I could report on how easy it is to use in practice, but I discovered that at present the system can only be used if you have a credit card with an IC chip. After 11 April it will be possible to register and pay a NT$3,000 deposit in cash.

taipei-u-bike-city-hall-station

The largest hiring station is near Exit 3 of Taipei City Hall MRT Station. There are parking spots for 192 bikes here and a staffed service centre. Other stations are fully automated, although they did have attendants there today to assist people and answer questions.

taipei-u-bike-rear-view

The design of the bike both looks good and incorporates a lot of useful features. Although users are only required to make a deposit of NT$3,000 I suspect the value of the bike would be higher than this. The bikes are made by Taiwan’s own Giant.

The moulded rear mud guard incorporates a red tail light. There is also a light on the front and they are powered by a dynamo. The bikes have front and rear drum brakes. There is a three-speed Shimano Nexus hub gear. The step through frame makes for easy use by all.

taipei-u-bike-front

There is also a cable lock integrated under the front basket. While it is certainly a handy feature I am not sure if it is a good idea. Ideally the system should encourage people to use the bikes for a short time before they return them to the stations which have special locking mechanisms. Having a separate lock on the bike will mean that people park the bikes in other locations and expose them to greater risk of theft.

The distinctive shapes and colors are also an important part of the design. They make the bikes both noticeable and distinctive. This helps to protect against theft and vandalism.

The system appears very well designed, but the requirement for a credit card or NT$3,000 cash deposit creates an obstacle to adoption by the general public. Also the hire stations are all within a limited area and it would be just as easy to walk over the short distances. I hope the system can be successful, but whether it wins the support of the public is something we will have to wait to see.

*More photos in the U-bike set at flickr.

7 thoughts on “New bike hire system in Taipei

  1. Great report David, that’s an attractive looking setup the city has! I hope a lot of people use it to encourage them to add more locations both in Taipei and other cities.

  2. That’s a fantastic idea; here’s hoping it expands.

    The lock mechanism really is necessary; few people are going to come to Xinyi just to ride the bike from one station to another. I could see someone taking a bike out to go to a nearby cafe, ride across Xinyi to run an errand at the other end, or in my case, ride it from, say, City Hall MRT to Songde Road to teach there instead of walking. In those cases, you have to get off the bike and leave it for awhile before returning it – and those are the situations where most people would use the system.

    There’s no profit to be had if you only make it available to people who intend to ride it around and bring it back without stopping.

  3. This is a really great system but it needs a station every 300-500m everywhere the MRT network runs to be useful.
    In Paris we use it to go back home at night when the Metro stops. It is really great.
    But it also need to come into a larger strategy on how to move around the city. I have been riding my bicycle over 2000km in Taipei this year, and there is a great great lot that needs to be done before this can be a true alternative.

    Do you know what is the pricing for this system?
    And any idea who paid for it, and who is managing it? Is it an advertising company like in Europe (JCDecaux in Paris, through they “Cyclocity” system)?

  4. Jenna,

    I think there are good arguments for and against the lock. I just feel that if the system had a really extensive network of stations spaced 500 metres apart then a lock would become unnecessary. People could just return the bikes to the stations when not using them.

    Edouard,

    Thanks for adding some French perspective. I agree the network needs to expand a great deal and integrate more with the MRT for it to be really useful. The first half hour is free and then NT$10/15 minutes. I am not sure about the financing arrangements for the system. There is space for advertising on the bikes, but I guess this is a way of generating extra revenue rather than funding the entire system.

  5. That’s true – if there were more stations, then it would be fine not to have a lock. Without a lot of stations, a lock is more or less necessary unless you are just using them for exercise.

    Doesn’t really matter for me – I have my own bike now! I haven’t quite worked up the death wish necessary to ride it in Taipei traffic from Jingmei to Xinyi, but I have it, there are bike trails nearby and I know how to ride to Shida via the back lanes now.

  6. David,
    When I’m talking about advertising I mean something else: In Paris the whole system (which cannot earn enough money on its own) is funded by a company called JCDecaux. They do this since the city of Paris has given them the exclusivity on the whole of the advertising marketing within the city walls.
    Hence my question, how is it funded here?

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