World’s biggest bike share scheme clocks up 115m hires per year

The Chinese city of Hangzhou has made cycling a key part of its integrated public transport system, including a free bike hire service

The Hangzhou Bicycle Service in China is now the biggest public bike share scheme in the world after expanding from 2,800 sets of wheels in 2008, to more than 85,000 this year. Around 350,000 hires take place there every day.

Set up by the government as part of an integrated city-wide public transport plan, the project’s bikes have now been hired for free more than 700m times and clock up 115m hires per year.

The first hour of hire is free and as 95 per cent of journeys last fewer than 60 minutes, most users ride free of charge. The scheme makes a profit anyway through a combination of paid trips and by selling advertising space on its 3,600 bicycle docking stations.

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This week, the Hangzhou Bicycle Service was awarded the International Ashden Award for Sustainable Travel as a result of its work to cut transport emissions. Since 2001 the Ashden Awards have drawn attention to innovative projects in the fields of green energy and sustainable travel.

Describing the Hangzhou Bicycle Service, one judge said: “The scale and efficiency of this public bike hire scheme – a vital component of Hangzhou’s well-run integrated transport system – is like nothing we’ve seen elsewhere, dwarfing both London and Paris. They are making cycling part of everyday life.”

The scale and efficiency of this public bike hire scheme dwarfs both London and Paris

Located in the north-west Zhejiang province, Hangzhou’s transport system is designed to reduce car use and the associated air pollution. It includes buses, a metro, taxis and the public bike hire service, as well as cycle lanes and bicycle traffic signals. Most of the bicycle docking stations link to other forms of public transport, and bikes can be hired with the same pre-paid electronic card that is used across the entire transport network.

An important factor in the success of the scheme has been the company’s real-time management system, which monitors bicycle shortages and excesses at every bike stand. It gives the company information on the number of cycles in use and maintenance team response times.

There are plans to expand the number of bicycles and docking points to meet demand and a mobile app is being developed to improve ease of access. Similar schemes have now appeared in more than 200 cities across China.

Featured image: Paul Starkey/Ashden

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