Monday, September 16, 2013

Beijing Bike Program

Much ink has been spilled over the new New York City Bike Share program, but Beijing has had a program since June of 2012. This weekend--ever the earnest environmentalist--I decided to "register."

First, we called the phone number and were told that for foreign nationals to participate, we needed to bring my Temporary Residency Permit and Passport along with a Beijing Municipal Administration & Communication card (subway card) to one of the five registration offices to activate said card.

I proceeded to the window at Dongzhimen Station and talked to the smiley attendant behind the prison-barred window, whose slats were so close together only the most petite hand could properly execute a signature through them. She told us that the program requires a down payment of 200 RMB usually, but foreigners without the proper paperwork must pay 400 RMB (or the cost of a pretty decent "cheap" bicycle). We asked what the paperwork was and she said that she did not know. "No foreigner has ever had the right paperwork." I could have had a prolonged, Kafkaesque exchange about how she could know this if she did not know what paperwork was required, but I was feeling flush so I laid out the additional $32.69 (200RMB) and filled out a lengthy form that required my Passport Number and an address for the passport even though passports don't have addresses, they only have an issuing state or province. There was a separate slot for my Beijing address.

I emerged some while later with a bit of a queue formed behind me and crossed the street to one of the 120 drop-off points. It took me a while with the Chinese-language only machine, but I managed to free a bicycle whose kickstand was, to the bemusement of a helpful-ish older gentleman watching my struggle, beyond my ken. After he helped me "get it up," I mounted the bike and was ready to pedal off to Church, but this, the first of only two bicycles in the dispensary, was broken.

In my frustration, I returned to the window and asked for a refund, which they could not give even though the bicycle had been properly re-inserted and was locked back into the dispensary, because my subway card showed that it was still checked out. I re-crossed the street and some new people were removing the bike and discovering that it did not work. I put my card on the kiosk and magically, it appeared to be checked-in. I returned to the window and got my refund. This was a whole lot of wasted effort.

At dinner, my girlfriend, who was very helpful though not very patient throughout this whole episode, said to me, "It is like educating a f&#king son." My jaw dropped, but I suppose that I was a bit foolish.

Allergic to exercise, she had told me that she would not bother with the program and expected that I would intuit that such a program was likely to be fraught with problems. Wide-eyed and naive since my Middlebury College days when we tried to get a bike share program started there, I was bent on participating. Maybe I will yet, but for now I am taking my $65 and buying a cheap, new bike.