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.
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.
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.
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.
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.