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Overseas operators pedal into Taiwan bike-sharing

New regulations planned to deal with stationless bikes in crowded lots, streets

Yellow oBikes parked next a YouBike docking station.

TAIPEI -- Taiwan was among the first to hop on the bicycle-sharing movement, but as overseas players pedal in to compete in Taipei and other cities, local governments are embarking on regulations to resolve emerging issues.

Singapore's oBike arrived in Taipei and other major Taiwanese cities this May. Users can locate nearby bikes with a smartphone app and rent one by reading the bike's QR code. This method is similar to Mobike and other Chinese operators, whereas Taiwan's own bike-sharing company uses a docking system.

Many Taiwanese users consider the stationless system convenient, because the bikes can be parked wherever the customer wants. There are about 8,000 oBikes in Taipei, according to the city's transportation department, making the operator's bikes nearly ubiquitous throughout town.

The yellow oBikes are also popular in New Taipei City -- a city surrounding Taipei -- where they are overflowing public parking lots and practically displacing scooters, the local transportation of choice. The bikes are also increasingly parked outside docking stations for Taiwan's publicly operated bicycle-sharing service YouBike in Taipei and other cities.

Government support helped make Taiwan an early adopter of bicycle-sharing. YouBike kicked off in 2009 with 500 bikes at 11 stations in Taipei. It is expected to have 13,000 bikes across 400 stations by the end of this year. The operator also has 900 parking stations in five other cities and counties across northern Taiwan, including New Taipei City and Hsinchu. Operations are entrusted to Taiwan's Giant Manufacturing, the world's largest bicycle manufacturer.

The rise of overseas operators doesn't necessarily mean YouBike has lost ground. "YouBike's usage is increasing even since oBike came [to Taipei]," said Liu Jia-you, an official from the city's transportation department. YouBike's many stations and quality Giant-made bicycles make it easy to ride, said a 39-year old man from New Taipei, echoing a widespread sentiment.

But local governments are embarking on tighter regulations as stationless operator VBikes from the U.S. prepares to enter Taiwan despite the prevalence of oBike. Municipal authorities will license companies who must provide plans outlining how they will secure bike stations and avoid other issues. Violators will face fines or have their licenses revoked. The regulations are expected to be introduced as early as next year.

The proposed regulation has received push back from oBike, which is working with authorities to prevent an interruption to service.

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