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Chinese city gets back on its bike
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As the first of its kind in the country, the public bicycle leasing service program was introduced to Hangzhou a year ago to make bicycles a component of the city's public traffic mix. As a means to solve the "final-kilometer puzzle" (you get on or off public transport close to your destination but have not yet completed the journey), public bicycles help realize a "seamless connection of bicycle-based slow-speed traffic with metro and bus-based public traffic facilities", said Huang Zhiyao, general manager of Hangzhou Public Transport Corporation (HPTC).

"As well, bicycles will aid green transport and reduce environment pollution in our city," said Huang.

Under the scheme, residents, from 16 to 70 years old, may hire and return public bicycles with their Hangzhou public transport IC cards or Hangzhou citizen cards at all service outlets.

Tourists from other areas may apply for service cards at service outlets with their identity cards and 300 yuan (44 U.S. dollars) deposit.

Under the provisions, public bicycles are used for free in the first hour, a period long enough to ride a bicycle around the West Lake. Users are charged one yuan from the second hour to the third hour, two yuan from the third hour to the fourth hour, and three yuan from the fourth hour to the 24th hour.

Tourists from other areas are the first group of people to benefit from the scheme, as bicycles offer them an exciting and convenient means to tour the West Lake and other areas.

"I have traveled to Hangzhou with my family several times before. It was really a headache to find a seat in parking lots in scenic areas. But renting a bicycle has no such problems. We can go wherever we want," said Liu Zhuo, a traveler from Shanghai.

Cao Jing, a woman in her 20s from Beijing, who has been to Paris and Prague, said "I love Hangzhou, it felt like meeting an old friend on my first visit here. The city has the quietness and elegance of European cities. Riding a bicycle along willow-lined lakes enables me to enjoy the charms of the city.

"The West Lake area has wonderful roads. It reserves a lane for bicycles. It sets barrier-free channels in every place, making it a pleasant experience to tour the lake with a bicycle."

For months, particularly weekends, the West Lake is frequented with tourists riding the orange red public bicycles against green trees, a scene by itself. Tourists also show up with the bicycles in streets of downtown areas and shopping quarters.

In addition to helping tourists go sightseeing, public bicycles have gradually become daily traffic tools for many residents like Li Meng.

According to Lu Zhihong, deputy general manager of HPTC, each bicycle was hired for 0.93 times on average each day in the first few months of operation in 2008. The frequency was raised to 3.27 times in February and about 5 times in March. In April, the city added 2,400 bicycles to 11 new service outlets, making the bicycles total 16,000 in 640 service outlets.

Observing the results, the Hangzhou Municipal Government cherishes a greater ambition.

"The public traffic department must work with the city administration and city planning departments to expand the existing scale to 20,000 bicycles in 800 service outlets by early May," said Wang Guoping, the Hangzhou Party Secretary.

"Our ultimate objective with the public bicycle scheme is not to solve the "final-kilometer puzzle", but the last 100 meters for the people boarding our public transport mix of metro, buses, boats, taxis and public bicycles," said Wang.

Under the city's plan, Hanzhou will have 2,000 service outlets to offer 50,000 bicycles for rent by the end of the year. People will find one service outlet every 100 meters downtown.

"Public bicycle outlets will become as popular as public telephone booths along streets. In the future, residents will largely ride bicycles to go shopping in food markets and supermarkets, or to go to the office," said Lu Zhihong.

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