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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Elephant In The Room: Growing Criticism Over Taiwan's Corporate Model For Cycling Infrastructure


Taiwan Insights has an excellent article examining the trouble Taiwan, and Taipei especially, is having with integrating its leisure and utility cycling infrastructure to promote cycling as a viable mode of transportation. 

The article points to several of the causes this blogger has identified (here and here), namely that the bicycle infrastructure model adopted by Taipei and the central government is driven by the interests of large corporations whose main commitment is to their board and shareholders rather than the interest of public good. 

This model leads to an ultimate conflict of interest and misguided policy. Just look at how the government effectively relied on corporate advisors to solve the problem of cars crashing into cyclists

The article states:

With two leading bicycle manufacturing companies on Taiwan, the island is known as the “bicycle kingdom.” Nevertheless, despite Giant and Merida’s presence, it is very difficult to commute by bike in Taiwan’s cities. Taipei City Councilman Chen Yan-bo pointed out, “Frankly speaking, Taipei has yet to provide an environment for cyclists to bike to work.” However, municipalities, non-profits and Taiwan’s bike manufacturers are working hard to make its cities more bike-friendly. 
Lin Yin-hong, the author of A Bike City, is a well-known cyclist and writer in Taiwan. He used to cycle to school daily as he pursued his PhD in Germany. But, upon returning to Taiwan he put his bike into storage, saying “All Taipei residents know how difficult it is to commute to work by bike.”

The article goes on to contrast the bike schemes developed by both Taipei and Kaohsiung, Taiwan's two largest metropoles. This is the second time this year a ruling party politician has come out against the government's efforts to expand the cycling plan to include commuters. 

Both the southern city of Kaohsiung and the capital Taipei unveiled public commuter bike rental schemes in 2009 in the hope of creating “Bike Cities.” The public bike rental system called “YouBike,” is sponsored by the Transportation Department of the Taipei City Government in partnership with Giant to provide 500 rental bikes at 11 locations in Taipei’s Xinyi District, the city’s most vibrant commercial area. 
Commonwealth reported that the rental usage of the YouBike has been underwhelming since its founding three years ago. For example, average daily rental numbers were only 178 bicycles from January to August last year, which means 64 percent of the bikes were not in use.
As long as Taiwan's roads remain largely unregulated and laws unenforced, there is no reason for Taiwanese to hop on bikes to commute. 

But either way this is a boon for Giant as they have already procured the meaty government contract with the Taipei government pledging to throw more taxpayer's money at a problem that Giant will undoubtedly be happy to help them fix. 
Commonwealth reported that the Taipei City Government announced in July that it was going to invest NT$228 million (US$7.6 million) to turn YouBike around with the expectancy of expanding to nine areas in Taipei City, adding 5,000 bikes and an extra 162 rental stations over three years. The main goal is to help Taipei reduce its 5,021 metric tons of carbon emissions by 2018. 
However, Councilman Chen is worried that this new investment is too much of a gamble. Lin concurs, “Who will spend money on bike rental? Even those who are Taipei residents owning bikes do not commute by bike.”
The article concludes with a very poignant and obvious observation:
"It seems that Taiwan is doing things backwards by building a public bike system first before improving the traffic environment. It is also very difficult to allocate new bike lanes on existing city roads. The only way for Taiwan to build a bicycle-friendly traffic environment is through legislation and educational advocacy to promote shared traffic rights for pedestrians, motorists, motorcyclists, and cyclists..."

Pretty bold for a blog run by the Government Information Office.


  • Oh my! My friend and former co-worker, Albert Chen, has arrived in Belgium on one of the final legs of his cycling mission. Yes, Mormons are not the only missionaries to travel by bike. Albert, a devout Catholic and avid cyclist, has taken it upon himself to cycle the world in the hopes of sharing the world vision of the Holy See. Although I do not agree with the idea of missionary work, I wish him a safe journey. We had spent quite a lot of time discussing cycling routes and Albert was very keen on pedaling through some places that are often not entirely friendly to the Christian cause. I am happy he has arrived in Europe safely. Like a two wheeled Godfrey de Bouillion, Albert's next stop... Israel. 


  1. Andrew you make many good points. The one point I would differ with you is that the article says MOST (granted MOST) cities make themselves bicycle friendly first before doing things like bike rentals. London has a similar (very controversial) bike rental system and when I was there the city did not look bike friendly at all - on the other hand the rule of law is enforced and drivers are very respectful of both pedestrians and cyclists.

    Taipei is a jungle for cyclists (sometimes terrifying) and you are right - they need to make it safer for everybody (not just cyclists). I mean, motorcyclists riding on the pavements to take a short cut, for example. Not cool! I have been hit on the sidewalk before as a pedestrian. Even the river side paths are not respected. There are regularly motorcycles commuting along those riverside paths and the police and authorities do not even try to stop it. I once even encountered a car going along the riverside path on the way to Yingge - when I challeneged them they said they had the right to be there. Not sure what I can do about that.

    I think EDUCATION and ENFORCEMENT are both important. There should be zero tolerance for motorized vehicles hitting cyclists - but motorcyclists and drivers should also be educated about the importance: when they do the test and possibly also through media campaigns.

    It is going to take a long time to make Taipei safe for cyclists and as infer, it will never be safe unless there is the political will to make it so.

    I do also believe making showering and washing facilities available at offices and work places will also help persuade people to ride.

    All we can do is encourage our friends to ride ride ride - the more of us there are, the more significant our voice will be.

    Good article.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I agree. The more of us out being visible, the more weight our arguments hold. The government is too keen to woo corporate involvement, but not everything must be for profit.