The launch of the bicycle-sharing app ignited hopes that Hong Kong is finally developing into a bike-friendly city, although the news about rental bicycles being found in Shing Mun River in less than a week were slightly discouraging.
Nonetheless, we believe this will not hold up its development as it is, in fact, an inevitable global trend. The bike-sharing business has been robust in China, with more than 30 companies offering mobile bicycle rental services.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook even visited the Beijing-based Ofo, a bike-sharing platform, which successfully raised HK$3.5 billion, and rode on its signature yellow bikes in March this year.
Despite its extensive penetration in China, the business was only introduced to Hong Kong months ago by GoBee.Bike.
The rental app offers 1,000 bicycles at the initial stage and supports services at Tai Po, Shatin and Ma On Shan. However, the system has created certain issues over the past few months.
In addition to abandoning rental bikes, irresponsible parking has also aroused public concerns. Since there are currently no designated bike racks for these rental bikes, they are parked in public areas which could cause inconvenience to public users.
Regulators cannot take action against illegal parking due to the lack of a proper registration system. Other security loopholes on the mobile app are also yet to be tackled but I believe these technical issues will eventually be resolved. What concerns me more is how city planning and commercial buildings could line up with the needs of bicycle users.
Indeed, bicycle rentals existed long before the launch of the mobile app. Cities such as Paris, London and Taipei are well equipped with established bicycle rental systems. Local governments work closely with private companies to set up fixed bicycle rental points across the cities.
For instance, youbike in Taipei, which was introduced in 2009, is now offering 322 rental points in the city, up from 11 in 2012. The bike rental system in Hong Kong, put into service in 2014, is of a much smaller scale.
The 30 bikes available from the SmartBike system are restricted to the West Kowloon Cultural District. Riding bicycles has always been a leisure activity in the city, rather than an everyday means of transport.
Ride-to-work will only be practical with policy support from the government. While detailed city planning may take a long time, developers can also play a key role in encouraging people to ride to work.
There have been discussions on the extension of the cycle track network at Kai Tak development and according to the proposed blueprint by the government, a bicycle lane will connect key spots in the area with the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. Any upcoming commercial sites, if possible, can actually consider adding bike-friendly elements, such as bike racks and showering facilities, to the commercial buildings to help promote a green and healthy working environment.
The Hong Kong government needs to redesign the roads and set up a comprehensive bicycle lane network connecting districts, with amenities that are cyclist-friendly.
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