Bicycle rental services are expanding and becoming easier with the introduction of such conveniences as reservations by smartphone, delivery of a bike to a userâ€™s desired location, and payment via prepaid IC cards.
In the past, bike rental services mainly targeted tourists, and most were based in well-known sightseeing areas. In recent years, however, bicycle rentals have become more popular for everyday uses such as shopping and commuting to work or school.
Rental services known as â€˜community cycleâ€™ or â€˜cycle sharingâ€™ are currently experiencing a surge in popularity. They allow users to rent a bicycle for a one-way trip, picking up the bike from one of the various â€˜cycle portsâ€™ throughout the designated service area and returning it to a port in a different location. After registering with the service, customers can rent a bike anytime 24 hours a day, paying rental fees by credit cards in many cases.
â€˜Chiyo-cleâ€™ â€” a bicycle sharing service run in Tokyoâ€™s Chiyoda Ward since 2014 by NTT Docomo Inc. in partnership with the ward government offers rental and returns at around 40 locations throughout the ward, making the picking up and dropping off of the bikes smooth and convenient.
After registering for the service online, users of Chiyo-cle can unlock bicycles at bicycle ports by passing membership cards over scanners. Rental fees are set at rates such as 150 yen for 30 minutes (excluding tax).
Chiyo-cleâ€™s members-only website shows a map marked with locations of bicycle docking ports, as well as the number of bicycles available at each location. Reservations are possible on the website if made within 30 minutes before the desired rental time.
Similar bike-sharing services are also available in three other Tokyo wards, including Koto Ward, as well as in Yokohama and Sendai. Bike parking lot operator ArchiMâ€™s, together with SoftBank Corp. and other collaborators, has operated â€˜Share Bike Minaportâ€™ in Kyoto since October 2015.
Through the serviceâ€™s exclusive smartphone application, users can specify any location in the city to have a rental bike delivered to them. Requesting collection of the bike after use is also possible.
The service is priced at 1,000 yen (including tax) per day, with an additional 500 yen (including tax) for delivery. If a reservation
is made at least a day before the desired rental date, customers can also choose a delivery
location among about 40 designated places
in the city, including hotels and bike parks, that have business partnerships with the
IC card paymentFor the â€˜Suicleâ€™ bike rental service operated by JR East Group, users can pay with a prepaid rechargeable IC card, such as Suica or PASMO.
Payment is made with a simple touch of the card to the bicycle portâ€™s electronic panel. The bikes can be rented at or near Higashi-Koganei, Kunitachi, Musashi-Koganei and Musashi-Sakai stations, all on the JR Chuo Line. An example fee is one hour for 100 yen (tax included).
Bike-rental services are spreading across the country, including ones run by nonprofit organisations or other bodies. Among them are â€˜Eki-chariâ€™ in Sapporo and â€˜City Bikeâ€™ in Kitakyushu. The expansion and burgeoning popularity of such services are establishing bicycle sharing as a new, growing method of transportation in big cities.
According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, as of November 2014, 72 cities throughout the country had introduced â€˜community cycleâ€™ services. The ministry is encouraging further expansion of the services as ways of boosting tourism and complementing public transport, expecting a total of 100 municipalities to have established such services as of fiscal 2020.
It is important to ensure more convenience for users, by installing, for example, bike docking ports close to railway stations or bus stops in cooperation with public transportation