03 March 2015

Bike Sharing Programs in Japan

Recently in getting around Tokyo, I have noticed some large scale rental bicycle stands.  First, there was one in Minato-ku, with red-colored bikes and a clear Minato-ku sponsorship.  Then I passed one in Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku.  I picked up one of the pamphlets for "Chiyo-kuru", the Chiyoda-ku "community cycle" program.  Then I was out near Tokyo Big Sight last week (in Koto-ku), lamenting the lack of any official bicycle parking (ironically, at a massive conference on energy conservation and renewable energy!), ... when I happened upon another large bike sharing/rental station.

What was going on?  Has Tokyo been implementing a massive "Boris Bike" or "Citi Bike" or "Velolib" program on a stealth basis?

I decided to investigate more, and with the assistance of my crack research team, entered the Chiyoda-ku program name, ちよくる, into my secret "search engine".  All was revealed.  These programs are run by NTT Docomo in conjunction with the localities.
Chiyoda-ku bike rental station near Jimbocho

Explanation of the program and user guides.
Indeed, there are now quite large trial bike sharing/rental programs going on in the following locations:

Koto-ku (which includes the Odaiba and Tokyo Olympics 2020 area).
Chiyoda-ku (Tokyo central business district)
Minato-ku (Tokyo central business district and commercial/residential mix)
Sendai (in Miyagi Prefecture, NE Japan)
Yokohama (2nd largest population city in Japan, just SW of Tokyo, port and tourist focus)
Hiroshima (major regional city and the #3 tourist destination after Tokyo and Kyoto).

The Chiyoda-ku program's website is here, and it has menu tabs for all the other Docomo programs as well.  English pages are available as well as Japanese.
Chiyoda-ku's stations
These programs each appear an order of magnitude bigger than the program in Marunouchi a few years back -- which was doomed to fail lacking critical mass.  I am not likely to ever use them (the bikes are too d#mn small!).  But if they can achieve critical mass, they will be a great resource.

Any obvious issues?  Well, other than the small bikes, I should note that these are only trials and they are very localized.  There is nothing that would allow someone to rent a bicycle to get to/from Setagaya-ku, where I live.

The Koto-ku program has been going since Nov 21, 2012, and will end March 31, 2015 ... this month!  Chiyoda-ku's program runs for another two years, to March, 2017.  Sendai's "Da-te Bike" program runs 3 years in total, to March 2016.

Minato-ku's trial is only 6 months ... I just noticed last week that it had started, and it will end on 4 weeks, March 31, 2015!   What a waste ... if in fact the program terminates after 6 months!

Yokohama, on the other hand, started in April 2014 and will run through March, 2019.  Hiroshima runs for 3 years starting this month (March 2015 to March 2018).

Let's hope these trials are successful and result in permanent programs. Thank you, NTT Docomo!

This got me thinking.  Where are Kyoto and Osaka?  Especially Kyoto, a major destination for foreign tourists, would seem an ideal place for a bike share program.  So more crack research reveals -- there IS a community cycle program ... just not sponsored by Docomo.  And no end date listed on its website!  You can find Kyoto details here.  And Osaka also now has a small "HUB Chari" program, with 19 stations.
Yokohama's bike share stations

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