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Bike-sharing services

Messy parking sparks call to regulate Hong Kong’s first bike-share service

Complaints received over bicycles occupying car park spaces, prompting questions about whether public facilities should be used by such businesses

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 May, 2017, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 May, 2017, 2:14am

Lawmakers and district councillors have urged the government to tighten rules after the recent ­debut of the city’s first bike-sharing service prompted a string of complaints over the haphazard parking of bicycles.

But according to Raphael ­Cohen, founder of Gobee.bike, there is no such need, based on his assessment of the fledgling bike-sharing business.

Sha Tin district councillor Billy Chan Shiu-yeung said he had ­received complaints about Cohen’s company, and calls for more stringent bicycle parking rules.

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Chan said there had been reports of many bikes left randomly in public car park spaces. Some of these bicycles had occupied the spaces for extensive periods, seemingly abandoned, he said.

“Hong Kong is not ready for bike-sharing services,” he said, citing the city’s lack of regulations and supporting infrastructure.

The case has raised questions about whether Hong Kong should follow the mainland’s example in regulating its fast-growing industry, after 30 bike-sharing companies sprouted across major cities in less than a year, creating social and traffic issues. Last week mainland authorities released rules to name, insure and impose an age limit on users.

In Hong Kong, Gobee.bike ­attracted 20,000 users in April when it launched with 1,000 bikes along cycling tracks in the New Territories, Cohen said.

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But the new business got off to a bumpy start. A total of 43 bikes broke or had parts go missing in the past month. Common issues included damaged pedals, brakes, back lights and hand grips, Cohen said. One bike was even painted silver from bright green. Some users even parked their ­bicycles upside down.

Bikes also ended up in “weird” places, such as the bottom of the Shing Mun River in Sha Tin, the airport, country parks close to the border with Shenzhen, and even in people’s houses, according to GPS data, Cohen said.

“At first, we told people to use public bicycle parking lots,” he said. However, this was met with complaints from people who questioned if public facilities built with taxpayers’ money should be used for commercial purposes.

Lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim, a proponent of ­cycling, said the government should create more designated parking spaces for shared bikes, taking reference from Taiwan, and charge rent from private ­operators for using the lots.

“The easiest way is to transform one in 10 roadside car park spaces into a bike parking zone,” Yiu said, adding that one spot could accommodate 10 bikes.

But Cohen said there was no need to tighten regulation, as the scale of business in Hong Kong was small. “I don’t think we need regulation. We just need good communication,” he said.

The Post reached out to the Transport and Housing Bureau about whether it would regulate bike-sharing services. In a written reply, the bureau only cited existing rules stating that bicycles are not allowed to be parked on ­public roads for more than 24 hours. Offenders face penalties of up to HK$2,000 in fines and may have their bikes confiscated if caught during periodic clearance operations.

Despite its early hiccups, ­Gobee.bike planned to have 2,500 bicycles on the tracks by the end of next month in areas such as ­Lantau Island, Tseung Kwan O and Cyberport, Cohen said.

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He said his firm was in talks with other companies, including food delivery firm UberEATS, developer Kerry Properties, Cyberport and some housing estates, to launch bike-sharing programmes for internal use.

“We work very closely [with authorities] to regulate certain things such as parking and ­maintenance,” he said.