Once I’ve introduced bike-sharing in Korea at Kojects and there I just briefly mentioned Nubija, the bike-sharing program of Changwon. This is a city on the southern coast of Korea. Among all Korean cities, Changwon has the largest system with ca. 3,000 bicycles and 240 stations. Whereas the national average of bicycle ridership is somewhere between 1 and 2 %, around 10% cycle in Changwon. Last week I’ve traveled to Changwon in order to learn more about the city’s success. With this post I want to share my impression with you.
History of Changwon
This city has a very special history. It is a planned city from the 1970s. President Park Chung-hee took Canberra as an example to build Korea’s first completely-planned city. A similarity with Canberra is for example the large roundabout in front of the city hall. Back then the plans included also bike infrastructure, because it was the main method to commute for industrial workers. My first impression of Changwon was very positive. The city is very clean and modern with many green elements. Apartment complexes are well-structured and there are many parks in the city. In 2010 Changwon incorporated Masan, Jinhae and some other smaller villages in the surrounding. So the population grew from 500,000 to over a million people. Jinhae is famous for cherry blossoms in spring and Masan is a nice ocean city.
It doesn’t take long until you stumble across a bike-sharing station. The large majority of citizens use Nubija. After the system was introduced the number of bike sales dropped and people are more than satisfied with Nubija. I’ve tried out Nubija and during a comfortable ride on well-working bikes, I saw the following bike lane types:
First of all, a fair percentage of the bike lanes are on the sidewalks and so space has to be shared with pedestrians. This isn’t the greatest solution but because it protects bicycles from cars, it is a common solution in Korean cities. The second type was a marked bike lane on the side of the streets:
Beforehand I’ve read that Changwon did a road diet on many parts of the city. However, some of the roads still allowed 60 km/h. So I didn’t feel very comfortable and safe to ride on this type of lane (on most roads). Sometimes cars were parked on the side lane and one had to leave the (slightly) safe area of the marked bike lane to pass the parked cars.
But then I rode also a bike lane type, which is probably the best solution for Korean cities: the separated bike lanes, which are often called urban cycle tracks! They make the ride very comfortable. The physical separation functions well and it keeps cyclists safe from cars and pedestrians. It is a bike-only lane and motorcyclists aren’t allowed on this road.
The bike infrastructure also includes traffic signals for cyclists. It could have been a little bit lower.
Costs of Changwon Nubija Bike-Sharing
The bike-sharing system in Changwon exists since 2008. Changwon took Paris’s Velib as main role model and on their own they implemented a very successful and user-friendly system. The costs of implementation and operation is covered by Changwon, which is also a pretty amazing thing. Until now the yearly costs are 5 billion KRW but through changes in the operating system the costs will decrease in the next years to less than 4 billion KRW per year.
Renting a bike can be done on their terminals and it’s fully automatic! Using the service without membership costs only 1,000 KRW and so it’s a great way for tourists to explore Changwon. The price for an annual membership increased recently from 20,000 KRW to 30,000 KRW. A half-year membership costs 18,000 KRW, seven days cost 2,000 KRW and for a month users pay 4,000 KRW. These low fees cover very little of the costs.
A Nubija Station looks like this:
Members of Nubija receive a small NFC chip, which makes it very easy to rent bikes. Like the picture beneath shows, you just hold your chip over the electric bicycle rack and then the lock releases the bike.
The success of Nubija is shown in their usage pattern: The peaks of usage are weekdays in the morning and evening. This means that Nubija is used for commuting. Each bike station consists of 10 to 20 slots, a solar-powered terminal with security cameras and sometimes you can find a bike pump. Changwon tries to have at least half of the spots free.
Actually, the lowest number of usages are on weekends. Constantly trucks are moving bicycles to empty bike stations. Changwon tries to have more bicycles than usual near apartments in the morning and then later more bicycles close to companies. Here is a picture of the trucks:
Is it possible to replicate Changwon’s model to other cities in Korea? Changwon’s unique history, geographic position and dedicated mayor have been big advantages. Actually, Ansan already learned from Changwon and they have a very similar bike-sharing system. Seoul intends to develop a city-wide bike-sharing service (at least it’s in their vision). Changwon has gained the know-how of setting up a system and maintaining bikes. Now they can export it to other cities and other countries.