by Mahmoud Fouly
BEIJING, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- "Riding a bicycle is so convenient as it avoids traffic jams and saves time," said Ryan Zhuhonghao, a senior at Renmin University. "For me, bike-sharing is a brilliant idea and the cycling culture is so useful indeed."
The young man, who has been unlocking a shared bicycle using his smart phone at Chengfu Road in Beijing's Haidian District, is one of over 130 million users in the world's most populous country, which now has around 70 bike-sharing brands operating more than 16 million bicycles nationwide, according to the Ministry of Transport (MOT).
Pioneered by two leading Chinese companies, Tencent-based Beijing company Mobike and its Didi Chuxing-backed rival Ofo, bike-sharing is certainly booming in China.
The government has created special lanes for bicycles where cars are not allowed, adding bicycle signs to the traffic signs. "I think it is a very good policy for society," Ryan told Xinhua while leaning on an orange bicycle he had just rented.
Using a shared bike is easy. The user simply opens a mobile app, locates the nearest bike, and unlocks the bike by scanning the barcode with his or her smart phone.
"They are available all over the city, they spare people traffic congestions and they don't produce harmful gases, so they are environment-friendly," Deng Xuan, 20, from Southern China's Hunan Province, told Xinhua at Xuetang Road in Haidian.
To better regulate shared bikes, the government has set new guidelines in August to keep the bike-sharing system on track and avoid random parking outside subway stations that sometimes leads to congested sidewalks.
"Shared bikes are part of the green urban transport system, and city governments should optimize bike transportation networks to improve convenience and safety for riders," the guidelines said.
Due to safety concerns, among the guidelines is not using the bike-sharing service for children under 12, who are discouraged from getting electric bikes as well.
Li Leyun and Lacey Ge, two friends and colleagues at Tsinghua University in Beijing, were riding the same electric bike at Qinghua East Road when they stopped to park on a designated parking lot on the sidewalk.
"The electric bike is faster and more convenient than a bicycle and you can ride it with another person. We don't need to get a license to ride a bicycle but we need it for an electric bike," Leyun told Xinhua.
Her friend Lacey said that the streets and roads are well designed for them with special parking lots, lanes and traffic signs. "So, bike-sharing is very systematic and well organized in big cities."
The cycling culture is not new in China as it has existed for a long time before automobiles started to prevail, about a couple of decades ago. Now cycling is again becoming popular amid the growing desire for sustainable development and clean energy.
"I have been riding bicycles since I was a young lady," said Wang Xihui, 70, who stopped for an interview with Xinhua at Nanlishi Road of Xicheng District. "The bicycle is very important to me, as it is very convenient while going out shopping or doing anything else," she said.
Sometimes a Chinese city has too many bikes. For instance, a survey from the Shanghai Bicycle Association showed that half a million bikes are sufficient to meet the daily use for Shanghai, but the city is home to over one million shared bikes.
This is why new guidelines urge local governments to study specific conditions to ensure rational allocations of bicycles and avoid excess supply in some areas, so that bike-sharing is a solution, not a problem.
Mobike and Ofo, China's two leading firms in the field, are now offering their services outside of China. Mobike's services are now available in Britain, Italy, Japan and Singapore, and it has announced its entry into the Malaysian market on Wednesday.
Ofo operates in Singapore, the United States, Britain, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan. Its cofounder Zhang Siding told Xinhua earlier in July that his company plans to expand in 20 countries by the end of the year.