Bangkok is set to join some 200 cities in the world with a bike sharing programme. The idea is simple — commuters can pick up a bike at any of the special stands around town, and drop them off at any other bike station.
As part of the Thai capital's pilot roll-out, there will be two initial stations at MRT subway Sam Yan stop and BTS sky train Siam stop, comprising 100 bicycles, with plans to expand to 50 stations and over 300 bikes by Q1, 2013. The first 15 minutes are free, its 10 Baht for one hour inclusive of the complimentary minutes, 20 baht for 3 hours inclusive, and just 100 baht for a full day, which currently lasts from 6:00 a.m. to midnight.
The idea of sharing bikes started in the mid 1960s in Amsterdam in what was termed as the "White Bicycle Plan". Though the experiment was short lived, the bike community idea was born. Nine years after the Dutch experiment, the French launched their version of a two-wheel community in La Rochelle, allowing commuters to borrow the bikes for free. However, virtually all bike-sharing programmes nowadays have some checks and balances implemented, lessons learned from several attempts that failed due to the high percentage of theft.
Here are three successful public bicycle sharing schemes that Bangkok could learn a few tips from:
The Parisian Vélib has over 1,800 bike stations comprising 20,000 bikes operating all day, every day. Operated since 2007, they also offer registered tourists single day and 7-day passes, perfect for visitors to pick one up any time of the night or day. For members, the first 30 minutes are free (45 mins 39 instead of 29 euro for the annual membership), after which you pay usage charges of 1 euro for an additional 30 minutes, 2 euro for the next 30, and 4 euro for each 30 minutes after that. This means that for the 'standard' membership, including the first free half-hour, a 2-hour ride costs a total of 7 euros, and 32 euro for six hours.
London has its blue Barclays bikes, a.k.a. "Boris Bikes", launched in 2010 with a comparable rate to its Dutch counterpart. You do have to pay 3 euros per member key, and membership will cost you 1, 5, and 45 sterling for a one-, seven-, and full year membership. As with the Vélib, the first 30 minutes are on the house, and including the half-hour joy ride, a two-hour journey costs 6 pounds, up to 35 pounds for six full hours on two wheels. London bikes are also accessible 24/7. There are currently 8,600 bikes and over 570 stations, with further expansion planned for the coming years, which will add 2,400 new bikes and some 5,000 new docking spots, with Kensington, Chelsea, and other southwestern boroughs already identified to receive the blue treatment.
The mother of all public bike hire schemes, however, is in Hangzhou. Launched in 2008, it is China's first, and the world's biggest bike-share network, currently boasting over 65,000 bikes and 2,000 stations. Locals can use their IC public transportation card, but visitors can also access these bikes by contacting the service points and paying RMB300 (37 euros), 200 of which is a returnable deposit. The first hour is free, but the scheme is currently only open from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. during April to October). Including the first free 60 minutes, a two-hour ride will cost RMB1 (just 0.13 euros), or RMB2 (0.25 euros) for three hours inclusive, and RMB3 (0.38 euros) per additional hour after that.
With Bangkok's infamously congested thoroughfares and haphazard approach to road rules, it remains to be seen whether the bike sharing scheme will take off with either locals or tourists. For committed cyclists visiting the capital and those looking to venture beyond Bangkok's city centre tourist areas, guided bike tours are likely to remain the preferred option, as the guides know all the short cuts and scenic routes.
As an attempt to encourage a more environmentally friendly approach to metropolitan travel, however, the scheme has been welcomed as a commendable first step towards more planet conscious commuting in one of Asia's busiest cities.