The New Taipei City Government on June 17 said that it would not follow Taipei in upgrading the YouBike public bicycle rental service to “YouBike 2.0” when the contract expires in August next year. Instead, the city is to turn to Moovo — a dockless bike-sharing platform — developed by Singapore-based Moov Technology.
New Taipei City Department of Transportation Director Chung Min-shi (鍾鳴時) said that the YouBike service would continue to be available to the public.
The city government said it had paid NT$300 million (US$10.14 million) in 2018 alone to subsidize free YouBike rides for the first 30 minutes of every rental. Such an expense would not exist on the Moovo platform, because the city only needs to rent space to the company and does not have to pay for facility installment or the procurement of new bicycles. The sharing platform would handle all fees and charges, as well as profits and losses.
That means three different public bike rental systems are to coexist in the greater Taipei area next year: YouBike 2.0 in Taipei, and YouBike and Moovo in New Taipei City.
However, the governments and city councils of the two special municipalities hold differing opinions on the issue.
The problem in Taipei is that if YouBike monopolizes the city, this could lead to difficulties in negotiating the price. The potential problem in New Taipei City, where as many as 100,000 bike rentals are recorded every day, is the uncertainty of whether the two YouBike systems can be connected and allow for rides between the two cities.
Another worry for New Taipei City residents is that the city government might gradually wind down the old YouBike service and replace it with the Moovo platform.
The New Taipei City government has said that all it needs to do is to rent out public space to Moovo and there would be no procurement issues. That raises the question of whether the city government simply does not want to subsidize the first 30 minutes of every YouBike ride. If it does not want to pay, users will have to. The question is if this will be acceptable to riders.
By introducing the Moovo platform, New Taipei City saves the cost of installing docking stations, procuring bikes and subsidizing the company as it has done for YouBike.
With the new system, the city government turns itself into a landlord and only needs to sit back and collect the rent. It seems that the city government is creating a new source of income and cutting expenses at the same time.
As Moovo would not receive subsidies from the city government, the company can be expected to charge users a higher rental fee. This raises the question of whether the platform will ask the city to speed up the removal of YouBike docking stations, thereby allowing the service to reach operational scale as early as possible.
The city government should think hard on the issue of replacing the current public bike rental system with a new one and focus on the issue from a “last mile” perspective:
If it wants to save on subsidies by turning the public bike rental sector into a free market, it could risk driving existing users away. People who now rent bikes could eventually turn to scooters, which could lead to an increase in the number of traffic accidents and pollution.
People using Taipei’s MRT, public bus and bike rental systems can pay for all of the services using the same non-cash payment tool, which provides discount schemes for people transferring from the MRT to a bus or YouBike. This raises the question of whether such discounts will continue after New Taipei City introduces Moovo.
Many students also use rental bikes as their main means of short-distance transportation. If the city government stops subsidizing the first 30 minutes of YouBike rides, the extra cost would be paid by parents.
Taipei and New Taipei City officials should coordinate their plans for public rental bikes, which serves as another mode of public transportation. Finding a better way for the system to operate should not be that difficult considering the large scale and number of users in the Taipei metropolitan area.
The confusion caused by the co-existence of three different public bike rental systems in the same area is simply a product of a bureaucratic mindset.
Chang Hsun-ching is a writer.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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