Hong Kong has the highest proportion of people using public transports, as the space in this city is tight, especially for roads, people have no choice to use other modes of transport. The crowded and narrow roads are clogged with buses, trams, minibuses and private cars every day, giving no room for bikers. Yet, in this non-bike-friendly city, there are actually quite a number of people riding. In the New Territories, there is a nearly 200 kilometres cycle tracks which are well used by the people.
To reduce the pressure on public transport services, bike sharing has introduced to Hong Kong for one year, since 2017. It was first launched by Go.bee Bike and now there are seven bike sharing companies offering bike sharing services, including Go.bee Bike, ofo, LocoBike, HobaBike, oBike, Ketch’up Bike and olo Bike with different colors and prices. The aim of the sharing bikes is to cover most of the Hong Kong and provides an alternative for short-distance transport. By just scanning the code to rent bicycles through mobile apps, you can ride to wherever you want.
The Hong Kong government regards cycling merely as a leisure and recreational activity, but not a daily transportation, therefore the awareness and support to bike sharing are insufficient. As a result, the citizens share two sides of opinion towards bike sharing services by concerning whether it can bring harmony or just chaos to society.
Bike-sharing is convenient to use, all you have to do is just using a mobile app to scan the QR code, hop on the bike and ride it. The bikes are available to rent and return in almost every district. Also, the price of using bike is definitely cheaper than most of the transports, for instance the Go Bee bike only charges $10 per hour which can help reduce the expenditure. Moreover, bikes are more environmental-friendly, since it has a low carbon emission and also can let people exercise more so as to help establish a green and healthy lifestyle.
Yet, since the lack of regulations on bike sharing system, it creates many chaos. With no current designated bike racks, the rental bikes are being left in the public space or even being thrown into the sea, which renders many inconvenience. The improper bike-sharing etiquette may affect Hong Kong’s image and arguments may arise between bikers and citizens. Furthermore, the apps of bike sharing company sometimes are not reliable, such as the company continues to charge people after they locked and returned the bikes.
In regard to understand more about the opinions on bike sharing services in Hong Kong, we interviewed with one of the bike companies-Ketch’up Bike, volunteer group and a share bike user to investigate whether the bike sharing service is bringing harmony or chaos to society.
Unsung Heroes: the Student Volunteers of Bike Sharing
Seeing the chaotic parking of the shared bikes, most Hongkongers choose to ignore it and just say ‘none of my business’. However, no one has ever expected some F.2 students have taken the initiative to tidy up the shared bikes without any benefits.
Those two 14-year-old boys are actually the members of a non-profit organization called Hong Kong Bike Sharing Volunteer Group, which was established in January this year. This organization aims at putting all the shared bikes in an appropriate order and location, as well as setting up the parking zones for the shared bikes in suitable places. They hope the government and the bike sharing companies can tackle the problem of chaotic parking.
There are totally 10 volunteers in this organization, which all of them are just secondary school students.
“In fact, I do this from my heart, as seeing many people park the bikes improperly,” said by Thomas, the organizer of the Hong Kong Bike Sharing Volunteer Group. Since Thomas and Donald are the die-hard fans of transportation, they indeed concern about the issue of bike sharing system in Hong Kong. “The parking of shared bikes is always messy. Some people even steal the components of shared bikes,” Thomas added. With the hope to change the current situation, Thomas and Donald decided to be the volunteers of shared bikes.
As both Thomas and Donald are living and studying in Kwun Tong district, they mainly tidy up the bikes there. They also help fixing the damaged bikes, such as when the chain has slipped off. Apart from that, they have already set up their first parking zone near Lei On Court, Lam Tin by sticking yellow labels on the ground on 13 April. Yet, the yellow label soon has been removed, so they have even contacted the Lands Department for enquiry.
Perhaps, this benevolent action is too rare to be found in Hong Kong such a bustle city. Thomas and Donald always are looked by the passersby with strange eyes when clearing up the bikes. They said most of the citizens do not really like shared bikes, because people think that the bikes hinder the roads and affect the cityscape.
Although they has been praised by many media and netizens, their parents do not really support their acts. “My parents said it is not my responsibility to tidy up the bikes. Instead, they encouraged me to focus more on academic study,” claimed by Thomas. “However, I don’t think it affects my study, so I will continue to do it,” he added.
Despite their kind-hearted acts, Thomas and Donald believe citizens and the government can do more in order to make Hong Kong into a bike-friendly city. “Actually, bike sharing is indeed convenient, especially for the people who live in the New Territories. It is also a good short-distance transportation. The users can just park the bikes in anywhere. But the key point is the citizens need to be self-disciplined,” said by Thomas. He also urged the government to pay more attention on bike sharing and build more facilities for cycling.
For the future plan, they do want more volunteers to join the organization. Thomas told that there will be a fitness test for who want to be the volunteers, such as seeing if they can hold the rear wheel of the bikes by just using one hand. It is also important to know how to bike. Hopefully, they will set up more parking zones in the future.
“Actually, if I have the opportunity, I will also want to tidy up the shared bikes outside Hong Kong. I do want to tidy up the shard bikes in Korea when I go travelling there later,” said by Thomas, showing his passion and benevolence towards the bike-sharing volunteer works.
Ketch’up Bike: Starting From the Shared Bike to a Shared Community
Bike sharing has become a growing trend in Hong Kong and now there are seven companies offering shared bike services. Among those companies, Ketch’up Bike tends to use a different operating method to achieve a real “sharing”.
Ketch’Up Bikes was established in the beginning of 2018, aiming to develop an environmentally friendly public transportation system and connect people in the city. It also hopes to let the users keep away from traffic congestion and have more chances to do exercise for health.
“Our biggest advantage is we are really ‘sharing’,” said by Kenneth, the Chief Executive Officer of Ketch’Up Bike. He has worked in the innovation and technology industry for ten years, since the introduction of bike sharing, he found that there is a great potential on bike-sharing industry. Hence, his team spent half year to investigate the operation of share bike system by visiting the countries that have established a successful bike-sharing system, including Japan, America and Singapore. “We found out that there are two existing problems in Hong Kong’s bike sharing service,” Kenneth added, “First, they are not really ‘sharing’ and secondly the operation system.”
Usually, the shared-bike company will buy a batch of bicycles and lease them for profit making, which cannot achieve the concept of ‘sharing’. Yet, the Ketch’Up Bike has investigated a special system to improve the situation. “We create a batch of bikes and sell them to the user in order to make them became the bike owner. After that, the owner can lease the bike to others or rent a bike from others,” Kenneth mentioned. Under this system, everyone can participate in the bike-sharing process and build up a connection.
Furthermore, the bike companies will spend immense amount of money in managing the bikes, yet the Ketch’Up Bike’s system will not encounter this kind of problem. “Since we have bike owners involved in the process, they can be a great help for management,” he added. For instance, one can ask other bike users to help collect his/her bikes nearby and ride to a place that convenient to him/her, which can reduce the time and money for collecting the bikes. “Moreover, the bikes are designed and invested by ourselves, we have a higher flexibility and technical support than other companies which are usually supported by mainland China,” Kenneth emphasised.
There is a 10% growth in the utilization rate of Ketch’Up Bike services, comparing with the start of the business. However, how to keep the utilization rate of users and increase the renting time are their biggest concerns. Kenneth shared that they are now collecting the data from the users to enhance the current services in order to bring more convenience to the users.
“The government definitely needs to take a major role in encouraging the bike development,” said by Kenneth. He mentioned the current bicycle facilities are not satisfactory since the cycle tracks are mainly in New Territories district and the parking sites are insufficient. “We are willing to share the data that we have collected with the government to make improvements as to transform Hong Kong into a smart city.”
The Ketch’Up Bike also contacted with the Hong Kong Bike Sharing Volunteer Group about the current bike sharing situation. They are excited to see the young teenagers taking the initiative to protect this new culture, which shows the love and caring of Hong Kong teenagers. In the future, they will highly support the volunteer’s activities and work along with them.
“Bike sharing is convenient to our daily life, I hope there can be more awareness and concerns on the bike sharing services so that we can become a truly ‘shared’ society,” said by Kenneth.
Shared Bike User: Government the Greatest Force to Suppress the Sharing Bikes, said Chan Ka Leung
Undoubtedly, the bike sharing has caused many chaos in Hong Kong, such as illegal parking of bikes. While some people may blame on the poor quality of citizens, Chan Ka Leung, a member of the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance, highlights the failure of the government to promote sharing bikes in Hong Kong.
Chan is a bike lover who loves cycling from To Kwa Wan to Wong Tai Sin. As a frequent user of shared bikes, he thinks there are too little choices of sharing bike companies in urban districts (mainly refer to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island). “Only ofo is commonly found in downtown. If you are lucky enough, you may meet Hobabike too,” said by Chan.
“Personally, Hong Kong needs a bike sharing system, because it is a transportation of a standard city. Just like many other big cities, they also have bike sharing systems for transport or infrastructure,” Chan said. He deeply believe bike sharing can cater the needs of Hong Kong and enhance its competitiveness.
When it comes to the usage of shared bikes, Chan told that people in urban districts need to fight for the shared bikes. “The number of shared bikes in urban districts is really insufficient. For example, when I see a shared bike near my office in this morning, I surely know that the bike will be taken by others when I get off from work,” Chan added.
But on the other side, some people complain there are too much shared bikes in the New Territories. “This can reflect a problem: the government does not support the bike sharing system. The bike sharing companies fear to put bikes in urban districts because the Transport Department does not encourage them to do so and they even confiscate the bikes. Hence, the companies finally step back and just put the bikes in the New Territories,” Chan explained.
“Why do people park the bikes illegally? It is probably because Hong Kong does not have enough parking zones,” Chan believes the government should take an active role to make the entire bike sharing system better, in order to facilitate with the public use.
Chan is actually happy to see there are some student volunteers who are willing to tidy up the bikes without any rewards. However, he is quite disappointed that the government did nothing to improve the situation. “Why do the youngsters need to do this? It is actually the responsibility of the government to do that.” He told that the Transport Department has said that they will provide citizens with a short-distance transportation, but when bike sharing appears, they do not take actions. Hence, he describes the Transport Department as “the greatest force to suppress the bike sharing system”.
Besides, bike sharing can also brings out the problems of urban planning in Hong Kong. “In fact, Hong Kong does not lack land, but the government used too much land for building traffic roads, as I know the amount of land used for housing is similar with that for building traffic roads,” said by Chan. He does want more land can be used for building the cycling tracks. “It is understood that it is difficult to add cycling tracks in the old traffic roads, but I think the government can set up cycling tracks in the new built roads, like what Singapore has done,” He suggested.
Chan also pointed out that it is ridiculous that the government did nothing to support the bike sharing system. As seeing the examples from other countries or regions, none of them can be successful without the government support. “In Shenzhen, there are many parking zones marked with yellow labels which people can find those zones almost anywhere in the streets. And Singapore also has done the same thing, and encourage people to park the shared bikes in those zones,” Chan added.
“To solve the problems caused by the shared bikes in Hong Kong, it is important for the government to refer to the successful examples from other countries,” said by Chan. He also hopes the government can make use of the opportunity of bike sharing to promote cycling in Hong Kong by providing more cycling facilities.
Bike sharing seems has caused many chaos in Hong Kong since it launched, yet it is definitely an important transportation to a city which can bring out a green and healthy lifestyle in order to achieve harmony in society. In Hong Kong, the bike sharing system still has a long way to go, apart from government, as a citizen we should pay more attention to this new system and work together to transform Hong Kong into a bike-friendly city.