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THREE hundred and fifty bikes are now available at Metro Line 1 Lianhua Road Station and commuters can use them for free to make short trips in and around Minhang District. Zhang Qian looks at the free cycle scheme and how it works.

Hundreds of brand-new red-and-white bicycles wait in rows outside the Metro Line 1 Lianhua Road Station. By punching a card into the machine next to a bike, you can ride it away at no cost. Just remember to return it to one of the bike sites within four hours.

Residents in Minhang District have been enjoying a?free bike service from 7am to 10pm every day since March 26. All that is needed is a registered card with your ID information.

Three hundred and fifty bikes are now available at the Lianhua Road station and there are another three sites within five kilometers. One hundred of the neighborhood's residents received their registration cards last month and are happy with the new service. Another 800 residents are applying for registration.

With several major highways and Metro lines running through it, Minhang District plays an important role connecting the suburb and downtown. Yet, covering the relatively short distance that connects the residential communities and major transport stops has long been a headache for local residents.

Daisy Tan, a 24-year-old reporter, used to take a bus to the nearest Metro station before heading downtown where she works. But a few months ago she started driving. Though working place is only five stops away, it could take her up to 45 minutes by bus in rush hour because the bus had to pass through a shopping center and a highway entrance.

"It was always exhausting, but it was the only transport getting me there before I chose to drive," says Tan.

But now, there is a third choice for residents like Tan - riding a bike for free, according to Li Yi, manager of the Strategy Department of the Ibikemedia Group International, a major supporter of the free bike program in Minhang District.

"Short-distance shuttling by bike can save a lot more time than by taking the bus, or even by car in rush hours," says Li. "As well, cycling is green transport and has no emissions."

It only takes seven minutes to ride a bike from Lianhua Road station to the Wangzu Xinyuan Community two kilometers away; it takes about 10 minutes by taxi, 20 minutes walking or 24 minutes if you walk to the bus station and then catch a bus.

Public bike services first appeared in China last August during the Beijing Olympics to help visitors travel from hotels to stadiums. And it was launched in Wuhan, Hubei Province, last November. After studying Beijing while considering the traffic situation in Minhang District last September, the company proposed the service in Shanghai's Minhang District.

"We believe that there's a great demand for this public service in Minhang which has the second-largest district population in Shanghai," says Li. "And the big area and wide roads here makes it possible to set space aside for pick-up and delivery sites."

So far, 350 bikes have been provided for the Lianhua Road Metro Station and three other sites within five kilometers, including the Children's Hospital attached to Fudan University, Chun Shen Jin Cheng and Yu Yin Yuan communities.

By May there will be another 3,000 bikes in Meilong, Qibao, Hongqiao and Xinzhuang areas. By October there will be 10,000 bikes available at about 200 sites covering areas like Pujiang, Wuqing and Maqiao.

The completed system is expected to handle between 50,000 and 100,000 people using the bikes every day. Each bike will probably be used by between six and eight riders daily.

Any resident aged from 16 to 65 years old can apply for a registration card with no deposit but must provide identification with other details like a social security card.

Returning the bike on time is important: Riders gain 100 points on their cards when they return it in time but lose points if they come back late. If you lose 2,000 points, you may lose your right to the service for a week. If you lose another 1,000 points, you will lose the right to the service for 30 days and if you ever lose another 1,000 points, you could lose the service permanently.

"With more residents choosing to use public bikes rather than private cars, we can save energy, produce fewer exhaust fumes and help ease traffic congestion at the same time," says Li. "And you don't have to pay a penny for that if you are a resident."

The bikes are easily recognized with a red-and-white design and coded locks. The code is shown on a liquid crystal display on the box where you rent the bike and it will send a message to your mobile.

For safety, the bikes are designed with reliable features including disc brakes. Every bike is checked at night to ensure it is in good condition before use the next day.

Riders can call the hotline or send faulty bikes to any of the pick-up sites for free repairs. But compensation is needed if there is any intentional damage.

According to a survey of 1,650 Minhang residents carried out by the company, 90 percent agree that the public bike service will make it more convenient for transport, and 70 percent agree that using public bikes can benefit health while protecting the environment.

"If everything goes on well, we hope that we can expand the service to more districts," says Li.

About renting bikes Q: How do I apply for a registration card?

A: Any resident between 16-65 years can apply for a registration card by showing their ID (passport for expats) and other documents like social security cards.

Q: Where do I apply for a registration card?

A: The company staff will set up registration desks in nearby communities. Soon, there will also be registration offices at all the major sites.

Q: What do I do if the card is lost or damaged?

A: Call the hotline 400-779-7700 to apply for a new card.

Q: Is there validity period for the card?

A: As long as you are between 16-65 years old, you can use your own card with no time limit. But if you lend your card to others, you will be held responsible for anything that happens.

Q: How long can I rent a bike?

A: Four hours. You can return it to any site within four hours. You can also telephone for an extension.

Q: What should I do if I lose the bike?

A: As long as you return the bike to an official site, you will not have to pay compensation. But if the bike is lost outside an official site, you will be liable.

Q: What should I do if the bike is broken?

A: Send the bike to any site or call the hotline for a repair- man. It will be repaired for free if it has been damaged by normal use, but you will have to pay if the damage has been deliberately caused.

Q: What will happen if I do not return the bike on time?

A: You will gain 100 points on your card when you return the bike on time but you will lose points if you are late. Your right to the bikes will be suspended for seven days if you lose a total of 1,000 points. Losing a second 1,000 points will cost you 30 days right to use the bikes and a third 1,000 point loss will mean you lose the right permanently.

Q: When is the service available?

A: 7am-10pm every day.


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