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Tuesday, June 12, 2001

City hopes rentals will curb bike glut

Staff writer

OSAKA — The city of Osaka, infamous for illegal car parking, has long had another parking problem: bicycles.

Local residents squeeze their bicycles into a row of bikes parked illegally in front of Tanabe Station on the Tanimachi subway line in Osaka's Higashi-Sumiyoshi Ward.

Although the city has banned parking bicycles near train stations and provided toll parking lots for cyclists for more than a decade, the situation has seen little improvement.

So the city will introduce a rent-a-cycle system in July as a pilot program, hoping cost-conscious Osakans may prefer the new system, which would reduce the number of bikes in use.

Some 300 bicycles will be available at a rental center near Nishinakajima-minamigata Station on the Midosuji subway line in Yodogawa Ward. Registered members can check out bicycles between 6:30 a.m. and 8 p.m., and the bicycle can be kept at home for as long as the user's membership is valid.

After a 3,000 yen deposit, a one-month adult membership is 1,800 yen and three months is 5,000 yen. Nonmembers can also rent bicycles for one day for 100 yen with a 3,000 yen deposit.

"We hope this system will reduce the total number of bikes in use, which hopefully will decrease illegal bicycle parking," said municipal official Yoshimasa Otoi.

One ideal use of the new system, Otoi said, is that right after a local commuter leaves a rental bicycle at a subway station in the morning, a student hops on the same bike to go to school.

"It would be making full use of the bike," Otoi said.

Although the city's official booklet states that it is only individuals' awareness and manners that can resolve the problem of illegal bike parking, Otoi acknowledged that is not enough.

"The ultimate solution would be to have enough parking lots, and illegally parked bicycles would be taken away every day. But that is not possible in reality," he said, because managing parking lots and removing illegally parked bikes already costs the city 800 million yen a year.

Since 1988, no-parking zones have been introduced at 112 of 155 train and subway stations in the city, and parking lots have been built near 85 stations, accommodating 117,000 bikes.

Otoi said that on average, 60 percent of the parking spaces are utilized. But the average number of illegally parked bicycles has only dropped from 56,000 in 1988 to 49,000 last year.

Although some 20,000 illegally parked bicycles are taken away every month, it costs only 1,500 yen for an owner to retrieve a bicycle, while the monthly parking fee is 2,000 yen.

Currently, a little more than 50 percent of the bike owners show up to retrieve their bikes. The others are abandoned and sold to dealers.

"We have to convince cyclists that the rental system is more economical at 1,800 yen, compared to the 2,000 yen parking fee," Otoi said. "Ideally, there should be more than two rental centers so that a user can pick up a bike at one place and return it to another."

He thinks the retrieval fee should also be raised to deter illegal parking. However, he said he is aware that if the fee is set too high, more people will not bother coming to get their bikes as a new bike can be purchased very cheaply these days.

Referring to Osakans' famed thriftiness, he said, "After all, what matters in Osaka is whether one thing is more economical than others."

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