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LCQ5: Automated bicycle rental service and "bicycle-friendly" policy
     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Che-cheung and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (June 21):
​     Since April 19 this year, an operator has progressively launched an automated bicycle rental service in some areas of the New Territories, under which members of the public who have downloaded the relevant smartphone application, opened an account and made payment through their credit card accounts may unlock the bicycles parked by the operator in public places and then use them for riding.  The operator has named such service as the "bike-sharing service" and expects to have 300 000 shared bicycles coming on stream by the end of this year.  Some members of the public have complained that such shared bicycles have occupied a large number of public bicycle parking spaces, exacerbating the exiting problem of shortage of bicycle parking spaces, and that many shared bicycles are indiscriminately parked in public places, causing obstruction to pedestrians.  However, the operator told the media that before launching the service, it had communicated with the government departments concerned on bicycle parking issues and had received positive responses, and that the service was introduced into Hong Kong through the liaison of Invest Hong Kong which acted as a go-between.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the Government’s role in the introduction of the bike-sharing service into Hong Kong; whether it has regulated the use of public bicycle parking spaces for commercial purposes and conducted public consultation on the parking arrangement for the shared bicycles; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) of the number of complaints received so far by the authorities about the bike-sharing service, together with a breakdown by type, and whether they have taken corresponding law enforcement actions in respect of these complaints; if so, of the details; and
(3) whether the authorities will provide additional public bicycle parking spaces, or follow the practice of London by providing designated parking spaces for shared bicycles in public places, in order to alleviate the shortage of bicycle parking spaces and dovetail with the development of the bike-sharing service; if not, of the authorities' solutions to the problems of illegal parking of bicycles and shortage of bicycle parking spaces, which have been aggravated by the emergence of the bike-sharing service?
​     My consolidated reply to the various parts of the Hon Leung Che-cheung's question is as follows:
​     In mid-April this year, a private operator launched an automated bicycle rental service in Hong Kong, in the name of "bicycle-sharing".  It allows customers to rent and return bicycles anywhere on a self-service basis through a smartphone application.  There is no fundamental difference in the nature of this business to that of conventional bicycle rental businesses, only that this operator adopts a different mode of operation. 
​     When the concerned operator planned to launch its business, it approached Invest Hong Kong which then arranged a meeting to enable relevant bureaux and departments (Note 1) to brief the operator on issues to pay attention to and the statutory requirements when operating an automated bicycle rental service.  Those issues include the prevailing sentiments of the concerned districts on illegal bicycle parking, and reminders of the need to abide by regulations in relation to the parking or placing of bicycles under the Road Traffic (Parking) Regulations, Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance and Summary Offences Ordinance (Note 2). 
​     In view of the controversies in individual districts concerning the occupation of public bicycle parking spaces by rental bicycles and the use of public resources for profit-making activities after the concerned operator launched its automated bicycle rental service, relevant government departments (Note 3) met with the operator again in early June to remind them of the need to comply with the legislation and to properly manage and park the rental bicycles.  Although the operator indicated at the meeting that follow-up actions would be taken, according to Transport Department (TD)'s observation, the actions taken so far have not been satisfactory.
​     TD has received some 30 complaints, mainly about the concerned operator using free public bicycle parking spaces for commercial use as well as its bicycles occupying public bicycle parking spaces for extended periods of time or being parked legally in public places.  Relevant government departments will take enforcement action and handle illegal bicycle parking in accordance with the established practice.  Where necessary, the concerned District Offices will co-ordinate inter-departmental joint operations on blackspot clearance, irrespective of whether the illegally parked bicycles are conventional rental bicycles, automated rental bicycles or privately owned bicycles.
​     On the Government's "bicycle-friendly” policy, I have already pointed out clearly in the related motion debate at the Legislative Council last Thursday that the Government's transport policy is based on public transport and aims to reduce reliance on private cars.  At the same time, we endeavour to promote walking and cycling for short-distance commuting and as "first mile" and "last mile" connection between public transport stations and living places or office.  The current term Government has already regarded bicycles as a green mode of transport, rather than for recreational purposes only, and will improve various supporting measures and facilities.
​     Currently, the Government endeavours to foster a "bicycle-friendly" environment in new towns and new development areas given that the cycle track networks in these areas are more comprehensive.  For many places in the urban areas, road traffic is very heavy with narrow and crowded roads, and with numerous bus and minibus routes and frequent on-street loading and unloading activities.  Owing to road safety considerations, the Government has all along been adopting a prudent approach and does not encourage the public to use bicycles as a mode of commuting on busy roads in the urban areas.  In the motion debate, we have heard various opinions and recommendations of Members, and will consider them as appropriate.
​     The Government encourages community bicycle rental services and agrees that these services are conducive to promoting the policy objective of "green commuting".  In recent years, a variety of automated bicycle rental services have emerged in other cities.  For example, public bicycle rental services in Taipei and London have parking poles installed.  The public are required to rent and return bicycles at designated locations.  In some Mainland cities such as Shenzhen, Chengdu and Nanjing, there are automated bicycle rental systems without the parking poles, enabling the public to rent and return bicycles at any place on a self-service basis through smartphone applications.
​     We consider that irrespective of whether automated bicycle rental systems are with parking poles or not, the key issue is whether there is suitable land in the city for parking of those newly commissioned bicycles.
​     Because of diversified demands for limited land resources, to identify suitable and adequate land for placing automated rental bicycles and increasing the number of bicycle parking spaces is sometimes easier said than done.  The Government will closely monitor the operation of bicycle rental services in various districts.  If necessary, we do not preclude considering further regulating bicycle rental services, but will need to ensure that the regulatory regime will not violate the principle of fair competition and is pragmatic and viable. 
​     When fostering a "bicycle-friendly" environment in new towns and new development areas, the Government will provide more bicycle parking spaces.  At present, there are more than 57 000 free public bicycle parking spaces across the territory.  The consultancy study conducted by TD on the bicycle network in nine new towns (Note 4) has recommended a total of around 7 000 additional bicycle parking spaces at 290 locations, amongst which 1 000 are expected to be available in phases by 2018.  In addition, TD has already updated the Transport Planning and Design Manual by including new bicycle rack designs such as "double-deck parking system" and "1-up-1-down parking rack" as standard designs, and will considering installing them at appropriate locations to provide more bicycle parking spaces.
​     Thank you, President.
Note 1: Namely the Transport and Housing Bureau, TD, Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF), District Offices, District Lands Offices and Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

Note 2: Pursuant to the Road Traffic (Parking) Regulations, no person shall park a vehicle in non-designated parking places or park a vehicle in a parking place for a continuous period of more than 24 hours.  The Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance prohibits unlawful occupation of unleased land.  The Summary Offences Ordinance prohibits people from leaving any article that may obstruct, inconvenience or endanger any person or vehicle.

Note 3: Namely TD, HKPF and District Offices.

Note 4: The nine new towns are Sha Tin / Ma On Shan, Tai Po, Sheung Shui / Fanling, Yuen Long, Tin Shui Wai, Tuen Mun, Tsuen Wan, Tung Chung and Tsueng Kwan O.
Ends/Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:10
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