LCQ20: Automated bicycle rental service
It has been reported that it has been less than a year since the automated bicycle rental service named the bike-sharing service landed in Hong Kong, and six operators have rolled out the service. Indiscriminate parking of shared bicycles is quite common on pavements and at other public places, causing inconvenience to pedestrians and other bicycle users. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the follow-up actions generally taken at present by the relevant government departments upon receipt of complaints about obstructions caused by shared bicycles and the average time taken to complete the handling of such complaints; whether it has assessed which public places are more suitable for parking shared bicycles without causing obstruction, and whether it has made publicity efforts to remind renters of shared bicycles to be considerate when parking bicycles;
(2) as some members of the public have pointed out that under the "walk-up-and-hire" mode of operation of the bike-sharing service, no inspections are conducted on the bicycles by professionals to ensure that they are safe for use before they are hired, resulting in such bicycles being more likely than those available for rent under the conventional approach to have accidents due to mechanical failure, whether the Government will clarify with the operators concerned the party which should be held responsible in case of accidents due to mechanical failure of shared bicycles, so as to protect the rights of renters of such bicycles and other road users; and
(3) as the bike-sharing service has caused problems such as indiscriminate parking of bicycles, whether the Government has assessed if the current regulation of the bike-sharing service is adequate; if it has assessed, of the outcome; whether it will formulate relevant policies or introduce a licensing regime, so as to properly regulate the bike-sharing service?
My reply to various parts of the Hon Chan Han-pan's question is as follows:
(1) and (3) Since April 2017, some private operators have launched automated bicycle rental service in Hong Kong in the name of "bicycle-sharing", whereby customers may rent and return bicycles anywhere on a self-service basis through smartphone applications. In terms of business nature, there is no fundamental difference between the automated and conventional bicycle rental services, only that the operators adopt different modes of operation.
Pursuant to the Road Traffic (Parking) Regulations (Cap 374C), no person shall park a vehicle (including a bicycle) in non-designated parking places; nor shall he or she park a vehicle in a parking place for a continuous period of more than 24 hours. In addition, the Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap 28) prohibits unlawful occupation of unleased Government land, whereas the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap 228) prohibits people from leaving any article that may obstruct, inconvenience or endanger any person or vehicle.
In accordance with the above laws, operators and users should not park their automated rental bicycles at inappropriate locations. The Government will follow the established practice in handling illegal parking of bicycles, be they conventional non-automated rental, automated rental, or privately-owned ones.
The Government has all along been concerned about the illegal parking of bicycles and prolonged occupation of public bicycle parking spaces by bicycles (including abandoned ones) and other articles. Departments will arrange clearance operations according to their respective purviews. The Transport Department (TD) is responsible for clearing bicycles illegally parked at covered public transport interchanges; the District Lands Offices (DLOs) concerned are in charge of clearing bicycles illegally occupying unleased Government land; and the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) is tasked to remove bicycles which may pose immediate danger to road users. The time used by departments in handling illegal parking of bicycles will vary having regard to the actual circumstances.
To address the problem of illegal parking of bicycles more effectively, the District Offices (DOs) concerned would coordinate, where appropriate, joint operations with such departments as the DLOs concerned, the TD, the HKPF and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department so as to clear the black spots of illegally parked bicycles or misplaced articles.
To more vigorously combat illegal bicycle parking, relevant government departments have been joining forces to implement a trial scheme at Sheung Shui MTR Station in North District since January 2017. During the operations, illegally parked bicycles causing obstruction were removed without notice pursuant to sections 4A and 32(1) of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap 228). The government departments concerned are currently reviewing the effectiveness of the scheme, and will consider whether it is appropriate to extend the scheme to other districts upon the completion of the review.
From July to December 2017, a total of nearly 28 700 notices on removal of illegally parked bicycles were issued, and a total of 5 876 illegally parked bicycles, of which about 300 were automated rental bicycles, were removed. Please refer to the Annex for details.
Apart from initiating law enforcement actions, the Government also promotes operators to exercise self-discipline, and has been proactively communicating with individual operators. In this connection, relevant government departments (Note) arranged to meet with individual operator in June, July and September 2017. In addition to conveying the views of the local community and the District Councils (DCs), the government departments also reiterated the need for automated bicycle rental service operations to abide by the relevant laws above, and stressed that the departments would pay close attention to the impact of the operator's bicycle rental activities on the community, and would step up law enforcement actions as necessary.
At the aforesaid meetings, the operator agreed to progressively implement improvement measures. These include displaying conspicuously a telephone hotline on its bicycles so that the public could lodge complaints about illegal parking immediately and its staff could remove the illegally parked bicycles as soon as possible, updating the operator's smartphone applications to display the locations of public bicycle parking spaces, and introducing a concession scheme to encourage bicycle users to park the bicycles properly. We have noticed that individual operator has started to reduce its scale of operation since mid-November 2017 by recalling around 2 000 to 3 000 automated rental bicycles.
On the other hand, individual operators launched their automated bicycle rental services in the urban areas in late 2017. The TD has immediately contacted the operators and expressly conveyed to them that given the heavy traffic, narrow and crowded roads, as well as frequent on-street loading and unloading activities in the urban areas, the Government does not encourage the public to use bicycles as a mode of commuting in the urban areas due to road safety considerations. Coupled with the fact there are no comprehensive cycle tracks and on-street cycle parking spaces, the TD does not support the operators to promote automated bicycle rental services in the urban areas. We understand that the operators are progressively recalling some of the rental bicycles placed in the urban areas.
The TD is following up with the operators on their operation in various districts, particularly the parking arrangements of bicycles in public areas. The Government will continue to closely monitor the operation of automated bicycle rental services in various districts and study the regulatory measures on "bicycle-sharing" in other cities, in particular the parking arrangements for shared bicycles in public places. We do not preclude further regulating "bicycle-sharing" if necessary, but will need to ensure that the regulatory regime is pragmatic and viable and will not violate the principle of fair competition.
(2) The Road Traffic (Construction and Maintenance of Vehicles) Regulations (Cap 374A) stipulates various requirements on bicycles (including automated rental bicycles). For instance, every bicycle has to be equipped with an efficient braking system, a bell capable of giving warning, and suitable obligatory reflectors. Any person who uses or causes or permits to be used on any road any vehicle which does not comply in all respects with the provisions of the said regulations commits an offence. Moreover, in accordance with the Road Traffic (Traffic Control) Regulations (Cap 374G), a cyclist must show a white light at the front and a red light at the rear during the hours of darkness or in poor visibility conditions.
The TD has reminded rental operators of their responsibility in ensuring that their bicycles comply with the requirements of the above regulations. The public should also check the safety of these bicycles before rental and make sure that the bicycles suit their body sizes, can be used safely and that the various parts (such as lights, brakes, etc.) are in good working order. The public should also pay attention to the terms and conditions for use of these rental bicycles, e.g. whether there are disclaimers on maintenance. If there is any doubt on whether personal rights are safeguarded under the terms and conditions, they should refrain from using the service.
The TD and the Police have all along collaborated with the Road Safety Council in organising publicity and educational activities to heighten safety awareness among the public when cycling, and remind cyclists to adhere to the relevant laws, including prohibition of cycling on footpaths. For instance, the Road Safety Council has produced Announcements in the Public Interest on television and radio, a set of educational videos entitled "Safe Cycling: Rules and Tips", the Road Safety Bulletin promotional publication, as well as booklets on safe cycling. Furthermore, the TD has launched a one-stop Cycling Information Centre website to provide to the public information on cycling, including the relevant laws and safety tips.
Having regard to the accident trend and the improper behaviour commonly found among road users, we will continue to devise suitable road safety publicity and educational campaigns so as to further enhance the awareness of road safety among cyclists.
Note: The TD, HKPF and DOs attended all the meetings, while the Lands Department attended the meetings in July and September.
Ends/Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Issued at HKT 15:45
Issued at HKT 15:45