Taipei’s YouBike system might have gotten off to a slow start, but over the past 10 years it has gradually become one of the capital’s icons: Thousands of city residents, from students, office workers and retirees to foreign students, expatriates and migrant workers, as well as untold numbers of visitors, use the more than 13,000 bicycles daily, racking up 26.6 million rentals last year alone.
Yet, once again, people were left wondering if Taipei bureaucrats are so snowed under by paperwork that they have lost touch with reality, after the Taipei Department of Transportation spectacularly burst YouBike’s tires this month by rolling out a new user registration system that effectively blocked foreign residents and visitors from using the bikes.
The move had been in the works ever since third-party liability insurance was first offered to YouBike renters in June last year, followed by personal injury insurance the following October. However, until last weekend, many people were unaware of the insurance programs, as they were offered as “opt-ins” through registration on the YouBike app or Web site, until they became mandatory on Dec. 1.
The promotional efforts failed to mention that a Republic of China national identification number was needed to register, as well as a local telephone number and EasyCard. There was no option for an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC), Alien Permanent Resident Certificate (APRC) or passport number.
The incompatibility of the numbering format of ARCs and APRCs with that of the national ID has been a longstanding complaint of foreign residents and foreign chambers of commerce, and last month the government announced it would change it in October next year, a move that is to affect about 1 million foreign residents.
Last weekend, YouBike told frequent users that they would have to reregister for the program, which was when many foreigners realized they were excluded.
While it was appalling to realize that no one in the transportation department, YouBike or whichever insurance firm or firms are underwriting the insurance programs appears to have questioned the inability of foreigners, resident or visitor, to register under the new system, the blithe response of the company to complaints was even more shocking.
One response, which quickly went viral, urged foreign customers with friends or family members with a national ID card to use that person’s ID and cellphone number to register their EasyCards on the YouBike Web site, or to rent a bike with a Visa, Mastercard or JCB credit card by paying a NT$2,000 deposit each time. Yet under the terms of service on YouBike’s Web site, registration is not transferable to a third party: “If you provide false, incomplete or wrong information, The Company reserves the right to suspend or terminate your access to all or part of the Service.”
The company also stressed that the NT$2,000 deposit would not actually be charged, but held for 15 days, ignoring that such deposits are basically ring-fenced by a card’s issuing bank, so a visitor or resident who paid a deposit several times over a period of days would effectively be reducing the amount of credit available to them by that amount.
“Welcome to Taipei and enjoy YouBike by committing fraud or tying up your credit limit for weeks at a time” — that basically cancels out the message in all the tourism videos and advertisements that have featured visitors happily exploring Taipei on YouBikes.
The good news is that Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) on Tuesday went ballistic when he learned of the fiasco, ordering the transportation department to resolve the problem immediately. However, visitors would still face the ludicrous deposit fee, and there is no word on how this issue would be resolved.
This does not bode well for the department’s plan to roll out its “YouBike 2.0” system next year, with a new operator, new bicycles and a new user service interface.
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