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The Biggest, Baddest Bike-Share in the World: Hangzhou China

Anyone who claims that bike-sharing is a European-style transportation innovation has clearly never set foot in Hangzhou, China. The 50,000-bike system in this southern China city of almost 7 million people (about 1.5 million people fewer than New York City) blows all other bike-shares off the map. As Bradley Schroeder of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy said, "I don't think there is anywhere you can stand in Hangzhou for more than a minute or two where you wouldn't have a Hangzhou Public Bike go past you."

Hangzhou's 2,050 bike-share stations are spaced less than a thousand feet from each other in the city center, and on an average day riders make 240,000 trips using the system. Its popularity and success have set a new standard for bike-sharing in Asia. And the city is far from finished. The Hangzhou Bicycle Company plans to expand the bike-share system to 175,000 bikes by 2020!


[music] 

Bradley Schroeder:  [00.08] Historically China’s very well-known for bicycling, and I think there was a period of time, probably a decade or two ago, where the focus went to car culture.  And now leaders are realising that it’s absolutely impossible to build enough roads for everyone to have a car.  And so you need to look at alternative methods, and those alternative methods are like BRT, their metro.  But none of them solve the last mile issue.  And that’s where bike sharing comes in. 

 

[music] 

Zhang Liqiang:  [00:37] The public bicycle system was incorporated as part of the public transportation system in Hangzhou.  Hangzhou is located in southeast China.  It is the capital of Zhijiang Province.  It is also the economic, political and cultural centre.  It has a population of 6.77 million. 

 

[music] 

Zhang Liqiang:  [00:58] Hangzhou Public Bicycle System trial operation started on May1, 2008.  It had 61 service points and 2,800 bicycles.  Now, we have 2,050 service points and 51,500 bicycles.  Average daily usages are about 240,000 trips with peaks of 320,000.  The distance between two service points in the main districts is 200-300 metres and the distance between two service points in the suburbs is about 500-800 metres.  The bicycle is free during the first hour.  We charge RMB1 for the second hour and RMB2 for the third hours.  After that, it is RMB3/hour. 

 

[music] 

Bradley Schroeder:  [01:42] It’s very integrated with other forms of public transport like the bus parking and the water taxis.

 

Zhang Liqiang:  [01:46] As a policy, if you have just used your card to pay bus fee, you can use the bicycle for free for the first 90 minutes. 

 

Speaker:  [01:58] When I go to work in the morning at first I choose the bus, then I choose the bike.

 

[music] 

Speaker:  [02:06] We are all familiar with the traffic congestions in Hangzhou.  Bikes are speedy and very convenient.  There are many bike stations conveniently located in residential complexes and along major streets. 

 

[music] 

Bradley Schroeder:  [02:24] I don’t think there’s anywhere in Hangzhou you could stand for more than a minute or two where you wouldn’t have a Hangzhou public bike go past you. 

 

Speaker:  [02:31] We often use both the public transit and the public bikes on our daily commute.  It’s very convenient that we can bike from the transit stop to the doorway of our workplace. 

 

[music] 

Zhang Liqiang:  [02:46] According to an authoritative survey in Hangzhou, the public bicycle system had the highest satisfaction rate among all the projects in city development. 

 

Speaker:  [02:57] When I need to take my child to tutoring, it’s easier to use a bike because it’s difficult to find parking for cars. 

 

Speaker:  [03:05] The public bicycle is more convenient for me.  If I had taken my own bicycle, it’s not really convenient because from my home to my workplace is very far, about more than ten kilometres. 

 

Speaker:  [03:17] Now the bike return stations are everywhere.  There are two stations in the complex where I live. 

 

Speaker:  [03:22] There are many service points in Hangzhou.  People do not need to steal our bicycles because they are basically free to use.  The people cherish the system and they would not do anything to destroy it. 

 

Speaker:  [03:41] For an electric bike I have to worry about where to park it, and whether it’s going to be stolen.  But I can put a lock on the public bike anywhere and no one will steal it.  And I don’t need to return it to the same place. 

 

Zhang Liqiang:  [03:51] Hangzhou Public Bicycle Company is an affiliate of the Public Transportation Group.  The company is responsible for the construction, operation and development of the public bicycle system in Hangzhou. 

 

Speaker:  [04:11] I don’t live here.  I travel here mostly for business and sometimes I swing by the West Lake and hang around a little bit.  They say it’s convenient to rent a bike here, so here I am.  It is easy to ride a bike for sightseeing around the West Lake. 

 

Speaker:  [04:25] I have been using the public bikes along with the public transit system.  Biking certainly is cheaper than taking the taxi, and faster than walking.  It’s convenient, and the rental is essentially free. 

 

Bradley Schroeder:  [04:44] The scale of bike sharing in Hangzhou and in China in general is just completely off the map of what we see in Europe and the Americas. 

 

Speaker:  [04:51] In my opinion, public bicycle systems will become an important part of the public transportation systems in cities.   

[music]

Transcription Sponsored by: Transcript Divas Transcription Services

Elizabeth Press is a Filmmaker for Streetfilms. She joined Streetfilms in 2007 to focus her video work on advocating for better biking, walking and mass transit.

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  • Beststeve23

    It is good to see that Hangzhou has put a lot of efforts to make bike becoming a main role in transportation system. I think streetfilms should make a video of Hong Kong as a counter example that it is one of the most bike unfrinedly cities in the world. Moreover, the living quality decreases and air pollution becomes more and more serious. It is because of people in HK think that having a car is good in HK. They do not understand  removing roads will not cause congestion. Hong Kong is not people oriented.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Green_Idea_Factory

    I am not how sure to compare the economics of this to other systems, but in regards to "3rd generation" bike sha--- this is not "bike share", but just another type of public transport. The technical and marketing integration makes that clear, as does - if we can take it at face value - the non-legal "ownership" of the bicycle and support infrastructure by its users.

    One feature I found interesting was the appearance of a child seat -- how is this managed or organized?

    The people who spoke mainly talked about convenience and speed, not fitness or carbon emissions. While a city or region might have commitments to reduce the latter, most people are simply interested in what is best for themselves (and they might be narrow-minded... oh well). A successful solution is one which prevents this self-interest from harming others.

  • The Clubber Lang

    Simply remarkable. And yet the U.S. Gets all hyper about a few hundred thousand bikes! We should be the ones leading the way....

  • http://karenlynnallen.blogspot.com/ Karen Lynn Allen

    Very impressive.  It even looks like they have some physically-separated
    bicycle infrastructure? (But not everywhere?)  Paris has also shown
    that public transit plus a bike share program works really well--that
    indeed bikeshare is a convenient and cost-effective extension of public
    transit.  But I'm glad you showed that there are people behind the
    scenes monitoring the system and fixing the bikes. The bikes can't just be put out on the street without maintenance and support.

  • Deedeehalleck

    Really a great inspiring film! Great job, EP. I didn't know you went there.  Joel was there in November and loved West Lake. xx dd

  • Anonymous

    I love these Streetfilms from non-US places...they really highlight ideas that seem 'wild' here that are actually just incredibly sensible.

  • TWu

    The irony is that until recently China was basically 99% bikes!  Only with modernization have cars come, and even central city districts become bike-free.  When I visited in 1986, bikes were the *only* way to go; otherwise you'd only see buses and the occasional farm tractor (and not the John Deere variety- basically loud 2 stroke engine on a pair of wheels).

  • http://www.facebook.com/psmithsf Peter Smith

    this post says Wuhan is up 70,000 bicycles -- that'd be even more than Hangzhou's 60,000+.

    http://www.chinatraveladvice.com/articles/857-free-bicycles-you-in-wuhan

  • cm

    Go China! (or at least Hangzhou). Imagine NYC like this, all the Wall Streeters riding down to work on the West Side or the East Side bike paths (if the East Side bike path is every completed)

  • Guestsail

    If it's true, then great! But since this posting is essentially q&a message board kind of stuff then fact and I haven't seen that number anywhere else I'll be inclined to stick with itdp experts on this!

  • Anonymous

    Great report. Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Fran-Cummings/100002167630356 Fran Cummings

    It's terrible! Where would I able to ride my $10K Colnago at 40kmh when all those slow bikes would get in my way????

    :-)

  • Beststeve23

    TWu: That's why chinese cities are going to make cycling becoming a main transport in the system. The growth of car use is too terrible before and produce  lots of pollutions and problems.
     

  • http://profiles.google.com/joseph.eisenberg Joseph Eisenberg

    Some bike advocates (e.g. David Hembrow) have criticized bike share for its small impact on bike mode share, at a high price, in Europe. But the biggest there have only 10 or 20k bikes. If Hangzhou is able to get 5 trips per day per bike with 50,000 bikes, that's making a real difference.

    This shows that big cities, like New York and Los Angeles, need to think big if bike sharing is going to change the city. The easy integration with the transit system in Hangzhou is also a great reason for success.

  • Anonymous

    TWu: YES! Those were rototillers with the blades removed, connected to farm carts!  I remember seeing those in the 80s too.  I remember being blown away by rush hour in Beijing--boulevards 50 feet wide PACKED with bikes. Like the 5 Borough tour on every road every day.  Maybe some $10,000 Colnagos would make the bike enough of a status symbol bring people back out of their cars...

  • Anonymous

    Just posted below--I think that might be just the thing to get people away from the idea that a BMW is the only way to flaunt your wealth.  Someone should set up a super-bike dealership there asap.  In my experience, most people with 10k+ bikes can barely ride them anyway. ;-)

  • http://sustainablemonkeys.blogspot.com/ Suzanne

    European bike share had a small impact? Really??? It was my impression that bike share lead to a huge shift to using bikes over other forms of transportation.

  • MZhang

    I was born in Hangzhou and though I live in the US, I go back and visit every couple of years. The city has always had clearly separated bike lane infrastructure on all major roads (long before this bike sharing program), so the bike culture in the city is deeply ingrained.

    My argument therefore is: bike culture needs to exist before bike sharing programs can be successful.

  • morai

    Yes, the lanes are physically separated from regular traffic lanes in most of the city . . . (I lived in Hangzhou for over a year and commuted by bike every day). It's great because the vehicular traffic and the bike traffic travel at such different speeds . . . that is to say, the bikes move about 10 times as fast as the car lanes during most of the day!

  • hxm

    ehhh I partially agree, but Hong Kong has a really nice subway, and Hangzhou's been working on that for at least four years with no noticeable progress. different things work for different cities. Hong Kong is a tightly packed and layered place; Hangzhou's much more spread out. If you prefer biking, Hong Kong might seem people-unfriendly, but if you like the subway & walking, it's pretty much like New York.

  • dada

    Zhejiang Province, not Zhijiang Province. C'mon, folks!

  • Beststeve23

    hxm:  I know that Hong Kong has a good transport system, but it bring out a lot of problem. In rushhour, if you get a ride through Tsim sha tsui to central. You may need to wait more than 2 MTR, There are also serious in Central and Mong Kok. Driving from sheung wan to wan chai, it waste you an hour. If you travel by bikes, it take only 20 min. MTR is hardly to stand for high number of pessengers. Moreover, air pollution in Hong Kong is more serious now, the government sometimes announced the air is too polluted that people should not have outdoor activities. I think Hong Kong should do something to reduce the number of vehicles, Having more than 300 vehicles in 1km of road is really terrible.

  • http://twitter.com/UrbanTransANZ UrbanTrans ANZ

    A great story. The public transport integration, especially fare integration, is a great lesson. It's also worth noting that you don't see any helmets in use... which has been perhaps the biggest hurdle that Melbourne's bike share system has not been able to overcome.

  • Evan Remington

    Seriously? I don't understand why people get so offended about Romanized spelling variations. It changes all the time anyhow. Give it a rest.

  • Bike

    I like it, a lot...

  • BikeMe

    Go "Zhejiang" there then :)

  • Chris

    Cool - I just visited Hanzhou briefly 6 weeks ago. Had to hire a hotel-sourced bike though, because I couldn't work out the process for hire with the main civic system as a visitor... (maybe I'm just dumb though)

    Hangzhou is a great example that Chinese cities are not what (Western) people think they are. Overall, green and inviting. Great connections to Shanghai by high-speed rail. Building a new metro system... The list goes on. 

    Traffic at street level is absolutely shocking though. And riding a bike (or crossing the road) is mostly a real risk-taking exercise.

    I have lots of info and pics on sustainable transport in China for those who are iterested (c.hale2@uq.edu.au)

  • Jduman

    Thanks for the tip. Those of us trying to support bike-friendly changes in US need to know things like you told us.

  • Mary Eickhoff

    The City of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, is considering a bike share program. The great difference is that motor vehicle structure is so established that it's going to be very expensive to provide appropriate routes for bike share users.  We are taking mini-steps however, mostly linking the growing network of greenways, so sharing information about success stories such as yours can be positive and beneficial to those of us hoping to bring positive motivation to the table.

  • http://www.bicycledefender.com Bicycle Defender

    I keep seeing bike parking on the streets of SF and am glad it is spreading. such a cool idea and it actually makes the space look more people friendly too. Next is parklett takeover!

  • Anony

    Great video. Impressive system. But it looks like they have a lot of motorcycles in bike lanes/paths. Is that legal in China?

  • hachen

    Ha, I used it three years ago when the project just began. Glad to know it becomes more available in the beautiful city.

  • Anonymous

    They are actually mostly electric bikes but yes something new to navigate.

  • http://www.peciar.info Mozares

    So the question is if there is growing bike use in China or its going down..

  • Lindyspice

    I remember seeing random bicycle repair stands set up on the streets when I was traveling in China, too. One question regarding the public share system though: what happens when a station is full and there's no open slot to "return" your rental?  Are there system attendants who shuffle the fleet around to maintain a good distribution and prevent pileups at more popular destinations, or does it happen naturally because there are so many people using the bikes?

  • rabi maharjan

    i'm of the victimazed of that bike-share during my office hours.Its been used to ever since i joined my job but i really don't know its real benefits . I wondered reading this news article .hopefully i been doing part of job for protection of environment .thanx.

  • Ari k

    Did you notice so few helmets?  I've commuted solely by bike for 15 years in San Francisco and NYC.   Wearing a helmet is the worst part.  It reminds you of the danger. I've never fallen where my helmet saved my life, but it only takes one fall, so I where it every ride.  I ride fast, I want to get exercise and get where I'm going.  BUt in this video, I see the slow speeds people are going, and the short distances, and the separated roadway...  I'm betting the accident rate is low.   I can see it working here, going from Old Navy to the Ferry Building, a doctor appt in Union square, to Cancun burrito.   Academy of Sciences to Beach Chalet and back.

  • Shelley

    I was in Hangzhou last summer and saw shade tents over the bike lanes near intersections so people can rest out of the sun while waiting for the green light.  so smart!

    Can tourists rent the bikes? It would have been so nice to go around the lake by bike!

  • Oileanach

    I don't know how it works in China, but in London UK and Toronto Canada the system involves small trucks with flatbed trailers to redistribute the bikes as some stations fill and others run low.

  • Charlie

    Wow - I just saw this article the very day I came back from Hangzhou, having spent a day biking around the lake on a public bike. Yes, tourists can rent them - but a word of warning: the bikes are pretty small, not really big enough for a largish western-sized male. I had my knees around my ears the whole time. And fairly poor quality - squeaky chains, naff brakes, no gears etc. But definitely better than nothing ...

  • http://twitter.com/KIMJONIL kimjonil

    The bike rental scheme in Hangzhou is just there so China can claim the title of largest bike rental system in the world. What this title fails to take into account is the quality of the bikes that are available to rent.

    What is the point in having 50,000 bikes to rent if they are all such poor quality that they are virtually un-rideable? Bicycle rental schemes have a responsibility to provide bikes that are fit for purpose, safe and a pleasure to ride. Having used Hangzhous rental bikes I can safely say this is far from achieved by it. 

    Good, well maintained nice bikes will turn people into cycling advocates and send a message out that cycling is both a pleasure and a sensible way of exploring a city. Crap bikes just send out the message that cycling is a waste of time.

    In comparison to the bikes on the Barcelona, Seville, London and Paris rental schemes these bikes in Hangzhou are a joke. 

  • lordnelson

     Evan...you are a tool

  • Olavo

    Well, we can't see that on the videos. Although the bikes aren't the best the point of having 50000 bikes is that on the other side you could have none, as we don't have here in São Paulo, Brasil. Vélib in Paris share the same problem of quality bikes which are too heavy and clumsy. But the maintenance is a Herculean job itself so Kudos for all shared bikes iniciatives around the World.

  • 549476451

    joke???un-rideable??Have you ever ridden one? London? Have u compared the price??? if u are a chinese, i'm ashamed of you!!!

  • Elainebaby1229

    I am from Hangzhou and I reckon the purpose of sharing the bike is for public benefits therefore size might just suitable for chinese people. Additionally, people from southern part of China are more skinner and smaller than the northern therefore, the size is not suitable for you. I would reckon as times goes by, Hangzhou government would realize it. Hope you can travel to Hangzhou again ! Hangzhou Welcome you 

  • Howzez

     Sorry, but most Chinese I know are smaller framed than Europeans.  When a bike is sitting in open, of course it gets squeeky.  Gears are good for hills, but maybe Hangzhou China doesn't need them.

  • funnyboy911

    You seem like a whining little b!tch.. I don't think anything will please you. Bwahahahahhahaha

  • funnyboy911

    Just find your blog, you are a whining little b!tch. For someone that b!tch about China so much you still live there. A little f' like you probably have a personality disorder...Go back to UK, stupid b!tch.

  • Noone

    Hey No Mama -  When you are Perfect and have made the entire world perfect just like you in your own perfect image then bring your critisism! Until then, either Shut the F Up or stop by my place some afternoon and I'll be happy to either educate you so you can make nice contributions or I'll break your fingers so you have to type with a pencil in your mouth and drink through a straw....      I was born in CO, went to CU in Boulder (a very Bike Friendly City!) and lived in Phoenix and San Jose for many years where bike riders are run over without hesitation...  I have now been living here in Hangzhou since 2008.   This city is densley packed like NYC or downtown SF.  It is not spread out like other 'Big' cities.  The purpose of the Bike program in this city is to close "The last Klick Gap" between a person's starting and finishing points.  It is very convenient to get off a city bus, or exit from one of the newly opened Subway stations, grab a "Free" bike and ride to your destination.  I use this service all the time and as I keep my check out to return time under 1 hour I pay nothing for the rental fee.  The Bikes themselves are adequate for the purpose they are intended to serve.  There is a large staff of roving workers who maintain them by adjusting brakes, oiling chains, checking and adding air to tires, etc.  They also have a few buses they use to redistribute all the bikes that collect at one location as a result of some event such as a sports activity at the Dragon Sports Stadium.  All told, the system works well as it provides people with a convenient alternative to using a car (I suppose you'd cry and bitch if your friends, assuming you have any, offered to loan you theirs because they have VW's and not BMW's....) and deters bicycle theft.  They are not intended to be used for pleasure, senic trips around West Lake or locked in your apartment for months waiting for you to return or ride it again.  If you want a nice touring bike, then go rent or buy one; they are alos available at the nice bike stores.  And after your's is stolen, you can use one of the orange Hangzhou free bikes to get home.   Or better yet, just walk because I don't want you to get the last bike on the rack and leave me walking because I appreciate the service and the system and understand the need to be a little more careful and try to be a lot more respectful...   But I also had a great Mama who taught me a lot of lessons that you obviously missed or need to have beaten into you.  So in closing, let me say; you stay in Europe where you think you belong (I'm sure they'd like to toss you and your bad attitude out from there too) and stay the Hell out of my beautiful city of Hangzhou.  To everyone else, please come see my city, enjoy the sites, look me up if you want to have a beer beside West Lake and be both respectful and careful if you use our free bicycles!
    Take care and Peace >  Hangzhou Bill