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New handlebars for popular program
By Fei Lai

The era of free bicycle rentals to reduce cars on the streets of the Minhang District will end in October.

The program, launched in 2009 as the first of its kind in Shanghai, has run into problems. About 8 percent of bicycles have been stolen and maintenance costs on the two-wheel fleet have risen more than expected.

Effective October 8, bicycle renters who keep a cycle more than 60 minutes will be charged one yuan (16 US cents) an hour. The current "honesty card" system that enables cardholders to rent bikes will be replaced with a new IC card requiring both a deposit of up to 300 yuan and a reserve account of up to 150 yuan. Details have yet to be announced.

Anyone found to be illegally possessing one of the public bicycles will be disqualified from the program and fined from their deposits and reserve accounts.

The free rental program was introduced with much fanfare as part of a program to make Minhang a greener district. The program offered 19,000 bikes in places spread around the community, including transit hubs, residential blocks and supermarkets. A user could pick up a bicycle in one place and return it to a bike station somewhere else.

"People who need the bicycle rental service most are commuters who take the Metro as their main form of transportation," said Sun Peilong, an official from Minhang Urban Construction and Communications Commission.

The program was initially set up as a free one to encourage public use.

"Studies done on public bicycle systems in cities across China showed that charging fees at the onset might lead to poor usage rates," said Wan Hu, an official who is involved in the bicycle project.

"However," he added, referring to problems that have arisen, "we predicted that this situation would happen."

In the four years the program has been running, 1,200 bicycles have gone missing.

Costly maintenance

Maintenance on the bikes also proved costly, at an estimated 998 yuan per bike per year. Last year alone, the Minhang government invested 19 million yuan in maintenance, and that doesn't count management fees.

Users often broke locks on the bikes and took them home. Some renters put their own locks on bikes at rental sites to prevent others from using them. Others complained that renting a bike during rush hours, when they were most needed, was almost impossible.

The honesty card was so-named because the program relied on civic responsibility and public pride. In the last four years, 230,000 cards were issued, but more than half were used less then twice or not at all.

Under the revamped program, which has been nine months in development, the district government is teaming up with the Forever Bicycle Group and the Agricultural Bank of China. Their objective is not to make profit but rather to reduce program violations.

Existing honesty card holders applying for the new IC card will be scrutinized for their performance to date renting bikes.

The revised program has stirred considerable discussion among Minhang residents accustomed to the free service.

Some have expressed doubts that charging fees will solve the problem. Some voiced fears that the government will just keep increasing fees once they are imposed, changing the original purpose of the service. Others said they understand the need for fees.

"Charging fees might go against the original intention of the free bicycle rental service, but it's for the good of the program if we want to keep it," said Li Jian, a resident at Qibao Town. "Paying a fee for the service is not unacceptable to me."

Li said he sometimes rents a bike instead of calling a taxi to go to the supermarket. "Sometimes I find the bikes have faulty breaks or other malfunctions," he said. "We really need good maintenance to keep the system safe for users."

Residents may apply for the new IC cards beginning on August 1, either online or by visiting designated offices.

"It is hoped that the new measures will improve the current situation and create a user-friendly environment for our residents," said Sun.

Q: Where can I obtain an IC card?

A: The new card is available at designated offices of the Agricultural Bank of China in Minhang District.

Q: What are the qualifications to get the IC card?

A: Anyone between the ages of 16 and 65 years and in good physical condition may apply.

Q: Can I apply for an IC card for my family or a friend?

A: No. Applicants must apply in person and only one card is issued to each individual.

Q: What personal information is required to apply for a card?

A: Qualified applicants must show their ID cards, give their phone number and pay for relevant administrative fees.

Q: Can I use my Agricultural Bank card to rent a public bicycle?

A: No.

Q: What if I lose my card?

A: Losses may be reported by phone to 400-105-0088.

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