Although the era of the “free lunch” has ended, Minhang’s public bicycle rental program has gained new strength with the use of prepaid IC cards.
A three-month trial of the integrated circuit cards was launched following the district’s decision to scrap the original “honesty” system for renting the bicycles, which led to too many lost or stolen bikes and drove up costs.
The use ratio of bicycles rented with the new cards under the trial program is nearly 70 percent, compared with 35 percent under the old system, according to the Minhang District Urban and Rural Construction and Transport Commission.
As of the end of 2013, the district had issued 34,000 IC cards, which require both a deposit of up to 300 yuan (US$49) and a reserve account of up to 150 yuan. The card also charges an annual fee of 10 yuan.
In addition, bike renters who keep a cycle more than 60 minutes will be charged one yuan for every overdue hour. Anyone found to be illegally using one of the public bicycles will be disqualified from the program, with fines deducted from their deposits and reserve accounts.
Although there was some public grousing when the terms of the program were changed last year, it seems most bicycle users have come to accept the new system, the commission said.
“I think it’s reasonable to set up a penalty system,” said Ni Jingbo, who exchanged his “honesty” card for an IC card in November. “It helps reduce waste of public resources.”
The district began the bicycle rental program in 2009 to encourage greener transport and help reduce vehicle congestion on the streets. The program offered 19,000 bikes from nearly 600 stations spread around the district, including transit hubs, residential blocks and supermarkets. More than 230,000 honesty cards were issued. A user could pick up a bicycle in one place and return it to a station somewhere else.
In the past four years, however, about 1,200 bicycles went missing, and the cost of repairing damaged bikes and replacing lost ones was mounting.
Another 1,000 public bicycles will join the program this year, said the commission.
Under the revamped program, the Agricultural Bank of China is a co-issuer of the IC card. People can purchase the card at all Minhang branches of the bank.
“Teaming up with the bank not only helps save government costs but also gives us the opportunity to re-assess market demand,” said Wan Huqing, an official with the commission. “It gives us data we can use related to opening new bike stations, which we are hoping eventually will cover a two-kilometer radius from all Metro stations.”