Government has role to play as bike-sharing trend takes off
It is good that the authorities see a need for more bicycle parking spaces but as new towns are designed, they should also plan for more bike-only lanes
Compared with the regulatory woes of the Uber ride-hailing and Airbnb travel accommodation platforms amid resistance to competition, the humble bicycle has had a charmed ride in the emergence of the so-called sharing economy. A sign of greater tolerance is that the government is adding 7,000 new bike parking spaces to the existing 57,500 in the New Territories, in line with Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan’s statement to lawmakers this week that official policy is to favour a bicycle-friendly environment.
As a result, it appears headed for a secure niche in the city’s transport market based in the New Territories. Evidence of this emerged soon after a start-up launched a sharing rental service accessed through an app, after which the user can park where they like. Within two months, it faced a direct competitor, local cycle enthusiasts were exploring crowdfunding to launch a third service and a tech firm planned to develop a platform allowing users to rent bikes from multiple providers, while another aimed to analyse user data and develop value-added features. The original player has battled vandalism and theft, complaints of illegal parking and claims of unfair competition from leisure bike renters, but plans to expand its fleet of 2,400 bikes spread over Sha Tin, Tai Po and Ma On Shan.
If regulation is needed, it is reassuring that the government has previously talked of being pragmatic and safeguarding the principle of fair competition. Given the environmental and health benefits of cycling, it would be a shame if its revival were stifled by regulation under an overall road and transport policy that is not bicycle friendly. That said, Hong Kong is a challenge to the bicycle trend because its roads generally remain bicycle unfriendly.
But cycling has its place in the growth of clean-energy transport, as evidenced by its resurgence and thriving bike-share schemes in traffic choked urban strongholds of the car. It is to be hoped that government planners keep the potential demand for bike lanes in mind, particularly in the design of new towns. Otherwise, even in an ideally compact place like Hong Kong, the best hope for cycling lies in the evolution of environmentally conscious transport planning.