YouBike, the bicycle rental scheme that the Taipei City Government launched in 2009, has been gaining popularity thanks to the recent expansion of its network, and it is now time for the city government to rethink its bike lane policy and create a friendlier, safer environment for cyclists.
Taipei’s first major bike lane, which was launched in 2009 and ran along Dunhua North Rd and Dunhua South Rd, was ripped up last year and turned into a taxi parking, waiting and passenger pick-up area.
This move reflected the city government’s lack of determination to implement an effective bike lane policy. Besides the poor choice of location for the Dunhua lane, which ran parallel to the inside lane of one the city’s busiest roads, police did a poor job of enforcing traffic regulations and stopping vehicles from using the lane.
Although removing the bike lane at a time when YouBike had started to become more popular was counterintuitive, the city now has a great opportunity to revamp its plans for bike lanes and promote bicycle commuting.
The YouBike scheme got off to a slow start, with only 500 bikes and 11 rental stations in Xinyi District (信義) when it was launched. There were 2,000 registered YouBike users in 2009, and usage rates remained low for the next two years. Now, the scheme has 116,000 registered users and the number of daily rentals has reached 25,000 on weekdays and 27,000 on weekends.
The expansion of the YouBike network from the areas around MRT stations into residential areas has been key to the project’s success. The city’s Department of Transportation has installed 62 YouBike rental stops so far, which offer 2,132 bicycles. It plans to increase the number of locations to 162 by the end of the year, making the bicycles more accessible to commuters.
Encouraging the use of bicycles for commuting, not just for leisure, is a critical step toward the city’s goal of building a culture of bicycle commuting and more needs to be done to realize this ambition.
The city government needs to build an urban bike lane network to be used solely by bicycles. Establishing bike routes on widened pavements, like the transportation department has already done in some areas, such as on Renai Road, is one solution, but such routes can only be set up around major roads that have enough space for widened pavements.
Also, Taipei Rapid Transit Corp needs to relax regulations to allow commuters to carry their bikes on MRT trains during workdays and not just on weekends. City bus companies should also learn from other countries’ examples and install bicycle racks on the outside of buses.
Carving out more parking space for bicycles near public transport facilities is another important step in making it more convenient to including biking in long-distance commutes.
It is also important to promote and enforce the right of cyclists to use city roads and change a driving culture where cars and scooters constantly compete for road space and right of way, and in which the rights of cyclists are largely ignored.
Without a public consensus that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on public streets as other road users, it will be difficult to create a safe and friendly environment for urban cyclists.
The city government should take advantage of the popularity of the YouBike scheme to promote bicycle commuting and show its determination to ensure cyclists’ safety. Otherwise, YouBike could lose its popularity once the incentive of a 30-minute free trial period is withdrawn, leaving the city to start all over again in its bid to create a cycling culture.