China used to be known as the Kingdom of Bicycles. Today, in many urban areas, it’s known for congestion.
As a 2010 survey by IBM pointed out, Beijing’s traffic is literally worst in the world. That same year, for example, Beijing experienced a traffic jam so bad that it took nine days to clear the congestion. Traffic like this makes the daily crawl on the streets of Johannesburg, Moscow, Sao Paolo, and Los Angeles feel like Nascar.
Fortunately for Beijing’s 20 million residents, a little relief is finally on its way. Today, Xinhua announced the launch of the city’s bike share program. While still in its testing phase, the local government hopes to have 12,000 bikes available by the end of the year and 50,000 available by 2015. The rate for a one-hour rental, one yuan (.15 USD), is comprable to the 12 km fare on the public bus.
The project is not the city’s first foray into the world of bike sharing. In 2008, the government commissioned a private firm that reportedly made 50,000 bicycles available during the Beijing Summer Olympics. Wang Yong, a restauranteur who spearheaded the program, said it failed to make his company, Beijing Bicycle Rental Co. Ltd., turn a profit.
“Bike renting,” he told the China Daily in 2009, “is much more like a public cause.”