Drive My Car, Drive U-Car

U car — Members of hospitality industry organizations demonstrate to show their concern over the drop-off in Chinese tourists. photo: cna
U car — Members of hospitality industry organizations demonstrate to show their concern over the drop-off in Chinese tourists. photo: cna

Tourists and Taiwan residents alike have cheered Taipei City’s YouBike bike-sharing program. The bikes provide a convenient, inexpensive and eco-friendly way to get around Greater Taipei. The program has been expanded to Hsinchu, Taichung, and Changhua, and the Taiwan government hopes to eventually export it as a turnkey solution to other countries.

Encouraged by YouBike’s success, Taiwan is now experimenting with a public car-sharing service called U-Car. A pilot version of the program launched in Tainan in October 2015, billed as being complementary to the Taiwan High-Speed Rail (HSR). With the purchase of an HSR ticket through the ezTravel website, tourists can rent one of 50 Mercedes Benz two-seater Smart cars. The rental costs NT$299 for four hours, NT$599 for six hours, and NT$999 for eight hours.

The Taipei City government’s Department of Transportation (DOT) is mulling a U-Car car-sharing program of its own, which Mayor Ko Wen-je has said would be rolled out by the end of the year.

Critics of the program say it would result in only 5% of car owners giving up their vehicles, based on the results of a similar program in Seattle. In addition, the taxi industry, already reeling from its protracted battle with ride-hailing service Uber, would be further hurt, they say.

According to its draft plan, the DOT will cooperate with private car-leasing companies and provide 100 parking lots as “bases” for the U-Car service. The car-leasing firms will park their vehicles in these bases, and the cars will be available for rent by Taiwan residents. One U-Car can substitute for 15 private cars, the DOT says.

The DOT reckons that users of the program (it is targeting 25 to 40-year-olds) can save roughly NT$10,000 a month compared to driving their own cars. Purchasing an automobile costs at least NT$600,000, while parking fees total about NT$48,000 annually. Various taxes make the purchase of a car even more expensive.

In an interview with Taiwan Business TOPICS, DOT section chief Liu Chia-you said the department is considering using electric cars for the U-Car program. “In fact, some cities, such as Paris and Chicago, have done so for their public-car programs. If we decide to do the same, we will install power-charging facilities at U-Car stations,” Liu said.

To increase the effectiveness of the program, the DOT plans to cooperate with New Taipei City, Keelung City, and Taoyuan City to extend the U-Car system to those other northern Taiwan jurisdictions.

Further, the DOT will continue to expand Taipei’s YouBike program in the city, which at present has 7,495 public bikes and 229 stations. By increasing the number of stations by 50 to 60 a year, the DOT aims to reach 300 by the end of this year and 400 by the end of 2018. Ultimately, the government’s objective is for a YouBike station to be no more than 350 meters, or 5 to 10 minutes’ walking distance, from anywhere in Taipei City.