While the introduction of Taipei’s YouBike rental service has ensured that nearly 60,000 commuters now have an easy means of moving around the city, bicycle shops in the capital have foundered.
According to the Taipei City Bicycle Commerce Association, about 20 of the city’s more than 100 retail bike stores have shut down since the bike rental scheme was launched in 2012.
“The main source of income for most of these stores that have closed down came from selling medium-priced and pre-owned bicycles to students, mainly, and offering repairs and maintenance services. Now this target group has become less inclined to purchase their own bikes,” association councilor Liu Ming-huang (劉銘煌) said.
YouBike offers a competitive pricing scheme in which the first 30 minutes are free and every subsequent half hour costs NT$10 (US$0.33).
“The free-half-hour offer is not something the city’s traditional bike stores can compete with,” Liu added.
A total of 158 YouBike rental stations now dot the city, offering about 5,200 bicycles.
The scheme’s cumulative ridership reached about 13.8 million trips in January.
The owner of Xin Jin Bicycle Shop, surnamed Hu (胡), said his store is located in an old community between Yongchun and Houshanpi MRT stations.
“Now that so many people opt for YouBikes, my bicycle sales have dropped by as much as 30 to 40 percent. I have had no choice but to shift my business focus to repairs and maintenance,” the shopkeeper said.
The proprietor of a retail bike store in the city’s Wenshan District (文山), surnamed Yeh (葉), agreed that while the bike rental service has brought great convenience to Taipei residents’ lives, it has taken a grave toll on bicycle retailers.
“These days, I barely have customers going in for a flat tire,” Yeh said.
“If the government is willing to offer taxi drivers fuel subsidies to help cover their operating costs, now it is time for it to offer the same assistance to bike retailers,” the business owner said.
Taipei Chamber of Commerce deputy secretary-general Chen Yung-chang (陳永昌) agreed that the city government should expand subsidies for YouBike to Taipei residents for the purchase of bicycles, to help boost business for bike retailers.
Taipei City Government’s Department of Transportation director Wang Sheng-wei (王聲威) said that the YouBike system has helped generate a bicycle trend in the city and it has also encouraged more people to commute on their own bikes, as evidenced by the constantly packed bicycle parking spaces at MRT stations.
“We will consider a subsidy proposal, but we also hope bike retailers can offer incentives to people,” Wang said, adding that YouBike is likely to continue its first-30-minutes-free promotion next year.
The city government’s Department of Economic Development director Huang Chi-jui (黃啟瑞) said YouBike’s relatively low rental fees create benign competition that should prompt bike retailers to transform their businesses and upgrade their customer services.