By Lê Hương
It's a cool autumn Sunday morning, and 24-year-old Kim Sun-il is looking forward to enjoying his free time with friends at a bookshop.
But instead of taking the fast subway, he's going to rent a bicycle for a more relaxing journey.
He quickly searches for availability at a nearby bike station on bikeseoul.com site using his mobile.
It's simple to access the bikes in Seoul. VNS Photos Đoàn Tùng
He smiles to see there are a few bikes available.
“I used the service more when I was a student because it's cheap and convenient,” he tells Việt Nam News. “Now I work further away so I have to take the subway, but I still prefer riding a bike at the weekend for short distances.”
Kim says he appreciates the city’s bike sharing initiative as it encourages more people to ride, keeping the environment cleaner.
Kim is among 1.6 million frequent users of the bike rental service in Seoul.
Ttareungi bikes are suitable for everyone.
“We first launched the initiative in 2015 with 2,000 bicycles at four major gates in the city: Yeouido, Sangam-dong, Sinchon and Seoungsu,” Seo Juhee, Manager of the Bike Policy Division under the Seoul Metropolitan Government, tells Việt Nam News. “At first, we had 30,000 members but now that's grown to 1.6 million.”
In 2015, 150 bike stations were installed at 300m intervals surrounding public transportation hubs.
Seo says the system aims to improve citizens’ health as well as solve Seoul’s traffic jams, air pollution and the high price of fuel.
Visiting the website or mobile phone app, you can purchase a voucher depending on the length of time you want to rent a bike.
Tourists can also use the bikes for sightseeing.
It costs 1,000 won (US$0.9) per hour for up to two hours, and every 30 minutes after that will be charged 1,000 won.
“It’s good because you can check information like mileage and time, and calculate the number of calories you're burning. Locking the bike during the trip is as simple as returning the bike to a station," he says.
Ttareungi operates four different designs, including bright green basic bicycles and traditional Korean design.
Renters can easily lock up and return bikes.
“The Ttareungi bike is friendly to women, seniors and everyone as it’s light and made from durable materials,” says Lee Hyung-woo, another frequent renter.
“It’s good for my health and for the environment, so why not take a bicycle instead of a car,” she adds.
Seo says authorities plan to install more stations throughout the city, with 500 added to the existing 1,500. The number of stations will be expanded to over 3,000 by 2020.
Seo says the Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to deploy over 30,000 public bikes by 2020.
"The plan is to have a bike station within a five minute walk anywhere in the city,” she says.
So when people visit Seoul, they have the option of riding a bicycle for sightseeing rather using other means of transport, she adds.
The website is available in English, Japanese and Chinese, besides Korean. VNS