Fifty thousand bikes will be available for hire in Beijing in time for the Olympics in 2008.
After the overwhelming success of Paris' bike rental scheme China is jumping on the bandwagon with a project five times the size of the one in the French capital. In the recent months the Beijing Government has been trialling a bike rental scheme at 31 hire stations around the capital. This week it announced its expansion, with 200 outlets planned in time for the 2008 Summer Games.
The project is being run by city firm Beijing Bicycle Rental Services on behalf of the city authorities. It has already put 5,000 bikes into circulation at key points including the Beijing Workers Stadium, the Drum Tower, and the Forbidden City.
More outlets, at bus stops, rail stations and other key points, will be opened during the next 12 months, and a further 45,000 bikes will hit the streets. Since the boom in China's economy the number of cyclists in its capital, known as the Kingdom of Bicycles, has fallen.
Beijing has 10 million registered bicycles, but it is also home to three million cars - and choking pollution. Rush hour lasts 11 hours a day, with frequent gridlock paralysing the city centre. The Government hopes the bike scheme will help tackle the problem.
By the start of the games in August 2008 there should be some 50,000 bikes available to Beijing residents, and visitors to the Olympics. People can dial a hotline to rent a bike and if they get a puncture, can exchange it at any rental station.
Bikes will cost 100 yuan for a one-year contract or 20 yuan per day. Users pay a 400 yuan deposit which is refunded when the bike is returned. The four days before the announcement of the scheme's expansion saw an experiment to cut pollution in Beijing, with drivers with odd or even numbered licence plates told to stay home on alternate days.
The experiment took 1.3 million vehicles off the roads at a time and an improvement in air quality was recorded in Government tests.
As well as tackling pollution, the scheme is aimed at reducing bike theft in Beijing.
Unlike in Europe, where advertising agencies have been given premium space in exchange for running rental schemes, Beijing's bike programme is being sponsored by the anti-theft arm of the municipal public security bureau and the
Beijing Environment Protection Bureau. Police officer Wang Xiaobing told China Daily: "This is like a centralized management of bicycles so that citizens won't have to worry about thefts."
The Beijing bike rental scheme will work as on a franchise basis, allowing the option for continuing growth.
Beijing Bicycle Rental Services is providing the bikes, while companies who want to join the scheme as a franchise will get 1 yuan a day per vehicle to cover running costs, plus profit sharing.
However, because people can hire and drop off bikes at different locations not every outlet is guaranteed to make a profit.
Following the success of Paris' bike rental scheme, which saw more than one million hires in its first month from 10,600 bikes, London mayor Ken Livingstone is considering introducing a similar service in the UK capital.
Elsewhere in Europe, bike hire programmes have been growing in popularity, expanding rapidly in Lyon, Barcelona, Copenhagen, and other major cities. There have also been calls for a rental service following a trial this summer in New York.
© BikeRadar 2007