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Thank God for bike sharing in Shanghai. That’s right, in a city of some 24 million people it makes perfect sense for residents to have 24-hour access to an inexpensive way of getting around town; you know, outside of the subway or bus.
Bike sharing exploded onto the Shanghai scene just as of late 2016. And no, I’m not kidding, it was literally of sudden explosion of bikes of all colors and designs hitting the streets.
For me, the concept of bike sharing isn’t something that’s necessarily new. Kunshan, the city in Jiangsu Province I had lived in before moving to Shanghai at the start of 2016, offered its residents a government controlled public bicycle program, and here’s how it worked:
First, one needed to obtain a bike card by placing down a deposit. Next, to use a bicycle, you’d need to head to a bicycle station located around the city and scan your card to unlock the bike. The first hour on the bike was free and if you needed to use it for a longer period, money was deducted from your deposit each hour. Likewise, one could simply return the bike to a charging station before the end of the first hour and then unlock it again without being charged. Simple, right?
Shanghai’s bike sharing system is much more different, thought the concept is essentially the same. First of all, the bikes spread all across Shanghai are distributed by private companies (I am not 100% sure if any are operated by the local government). I’ve seen at least 10 different bicycle brands out on the streets, though I’m positive there are more. Bike sharing brands in Shanghai include Mobike, Ofo, and Youon, to name a few.
Next, each bike brand has an app. Riders must first download the app, place down a deposit and then add credits—companies offer different pricing systems—all from their mobile phone. To find a bike, they can use the app’s location services or simply walk up to a bike out on the street. Once at the bike, they’ll need to scan its QR code to unlock it. Once unlocked, they’re free to ride the bike anywhere around the city, and when finished, simply park the bike on the sidewalk and lock it. Done.
And therein lies the biggest difference: in Shanghai, you’re allowed to park the bike almost anywhere across the city rather than at a designated bicycle station. If you ride a bike to work, for instance, all you’ll need to do is place the bike on the curb right outside of your job and lock it. Excellent!
And to add icing to the cake, Shanghai is even host to electric bicycles. What a fantastic way to get around town!
I must say, this is a very innovative and insanely awesome feature of Shanghai’s bike sharing system. It is highly convenient and not only allows for more time saved for getting to your destination, but also makes for a much more overall happier riding experience.
In the end, as an American, I’m just hoping that the USA catches up with this type of sufficient bike sharing system. Sure, I am aware that cities like Los Angeles offer bike sharing programs, however, they are very limited to specific areas such as downtown, are expensive, and bikes must be placed back into designated stations. I'd like the freedom to place them anywhere across the city!
There are some downsides to Shanghai’s bike sharing system, though; after all, it isn’t perfect. I’ve read that bike sharing companies are still struggling to make profit. I’ve also seen that many users park bicycles in prohibited places, and even get into altercations when bikes are left in unwanted places. There has also been plenty of pictures on social media of public bike graveyards; you know, places where bikes are shipped when they've been parked inappropriately.
These items are things that both the private bike sharing companies and local governments will need to fix in the near future. Once settled though, I just hope that America will follow suit.
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