A number of people and organizations are encouraging commuters to use bicycles to go to work, especially now that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has decided to unfreeze fuel and energy price rises so soon after Ma’s re-election.
Among those organizations are the Taipei Cyclist Federation, bike commuter-friendly corporations that provide showers and changing facilities to their employees and, of course, bike shops. Conspicuously absent from this new bike craze, however, is the Taipei City Government, the Taipei MRT Corp and private bus companies in and around the city.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) seems to think of people who ride bicycles as just weekend enthusiasts, content to use the few bike paths available, which are often in need of repair. Nothing is being done to make the city’s roads safe for cycling, police do little to stop taxis and buses from overtaking and nearly crushing bikers, and there are no integrated traffic lanes for cyclists. The river paths are the safest place to ride in Taipei, but they often do not go near the business districts of the city, such as Xinyi District (信義).
The MRT Corp has the same kind of blinders on — it only allows people to bring bikes on the MRT during weekends, at certain stations and for a steep price. It would be impossible for a bicycle commuter to integrate the MRT into his or her commute during a regular work week. Nor is it possible with buses. In a city like Seattle, Washington, buses often have bike racks in front of their windshields for cyclists’ bikes. Not so in Taipei.
With fuel costs rising, more people will switch to pedal power, but it will likely not be sustainable except among avid bike enthusiasts. In most cases, office workers will try out bike commuting for a few days, maybe a few weeks, and then they will go back to relying on scooters, MRT trains or buses because of the daunting obstacles to bike commuting.
To really encourage mass bike commuting, as seen in Denmark or the Netherlands, where 30 percent of the workforce commutes by bicycle, the entire culture of the city needs to change.
The city government needs to dedicate lanes on roads to bicycles, and not just in the failed way that Hau did on Taipei’s Dunhua North and South Road in 2009, when a green lane on the side of the road meant to be a bike path turned instantly into a taxi parking, waiting and pick-up area.
Employers need to accommodate their bicycle commuting employees by giving them a place to change their clothes and even installing showers in public restrooms.
Public transportation firms need to give commuters a viable option for carrying their bikes on buses and trains so they can be integrated into long-distance commuting. Imagine a commuter who lives in Tamshui (淡水), New Taipei City (新北市), riding every day to Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖) without using the MRT.
The commuters themselves also need to realize that they are going to get sweaty, dirty and wet when cycling to and from work. They should dress accordingly, and make sure they have extra changes of clothing in their office.
Getting major portions of a workforce to commute by bicycle is not just a pipe dream — it can and has been done. However, it takes hard work, support from the government and responsible employers. There is no better time than now to start realizing this dream.