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February 21, 2013

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Overhaul looms for free bicycle rental program

MINHANG District is now considering charging users a fee for its free bicycle rental service to repair damaged bikes or replace ones that are stolen, officials disclosed.

The district offers 20,000 bikes around major communities, traffic hubs and supermarkets for residents to borrow. Each bike is used 2.5 times per day on average.

Maintaining the service is costly because some users break the locks and take the bikes home. They then refuse to return the bicycles, officials said. Other users also put their own locks on the bicycles at the rental site to prevent others from using them.

Others complain it is too difficult to borrow a bicycle during rush hours.

Minhang launched the free bike rental service in 2009, but has found it increasingly difficult to maintain the service. It is considering setting a time limit for borrowing a bike. Users who keep a bicycle beyond the time limit would then be charged a fee based on how late the bike is returned.

However, the plan has stirred a debate among locals who are accustomed to the free service.

Some were skeptical whether charging fees would help solve the problem and some worried the government would keep increasing fees in the future, changing the original purpose of the service.

But some supported the government's plan.

"It's reasonable for the government to charge a small fee to maintain the service," said Li Yi, a Minhang resident.

She said she borrows a bike almost every day to travel between bus and Metro stations on her way to and from work.

"I always find bikes without brakes or other parts," she said. "The service really requires continuous investment to repair the bikes."

James Zhou, also a Minhang resident, said he would not use the service if fees are introduced.

Similar programs launched in other areas of the city have learned from Minhang's experience and charge residents user fees to keep the bicycles in good condition.

From next month, residents, including expatriates, will be able to rent a bike in Pudong's Kangqiao area, according to Shanghai Forever Bicycle Co Ltd, which is providing the service.

Residents in Kangqiao will be required to pay a 200 yuan (US$32) deposit to get a certificate and add 100 yuan onto a membership card to use the service. The rental fee will be a maximum of 1 yuan per day.

Pudong's Zhoupu area also launched a public bike service in which users need to pay.


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