Bike Sharing in Tokyo: See What Others Don't

Tokyo is no Amsterdam when it comes to biking. However, there have been some noticeable changes in the last couple of years. There are more bike lanes throughout the city and bike rentals are becoming a common sight. Docomo's Bike Share is one such system which allows individuals to borrow bikes for short term use. People can rent a bike at point A and return it at point B, making bike sharing perfect  for one-way trips. Each bike services multiple users each day. 

What is Bike Share?

Imagine a huge pool of bikes for communal use all over the city. Instead of jumping into a taxi or heading underground to the subway, you can head to bike share hub and check out one of their bikes and return it at the same or a different hub. Bike sharing began in Europe in 1965, but it wasn't until the mid 2000s that it took off, thanks to information technology.  Docomo Bike Share has bike hubs in 6 wards in Tokyo: Chiyoda, Chuo, Minato, Shinjuku, Bunkyo, and Koto. Check out this map for the locations of all their bike hubs. The bikes are electric powered, something you will be grateful for when you go uphill. 

Why Bike Share?

Whoever thought of this system is brilliant. Bikes provide a healthy and eco-friendly alternative to motorised public transportation for short distance trips, which translate to more exercise for the user and less traffic, noise and air pollution for everyone else. But sometimes, people don't have enough space to store their own bikes, or they may have parking concerns at home or at their destination. They may worry about the cost of maintaining their own bikes or having their own bikes stolen. Bike sharing eliminates these.  Equipped with a lock that has a GPS and a mobile internet connection, operators can locate Docomo bikes that have been rented out and users can book available bikes. Electric bikes are pretty expensive and out of reach for some people but with bike share, everyone can experience the ease of navigating difficult topographies (i.e. inclines). E-bikes are recharged when they dock back at the station. 

Bike share systems solve the "last mile" problem. The "last mile" is a term used to describe the movement of people from a public transit network to their final destination, and this is often the least efficient and least cost effective part of travel. For example, people often walk from a train station to their work place. One user of the Docomo Bicycle Sharing was able to cut her commute to work by about 45 minutes. 

Currently, the largest percentage of bike-sharing customers use it for sightseeing, which  is no surprise. You can see a lot more of the city when you bike than if you take a train or taxi. By more, I do not mean distance, but rather the day-to-day happenings that make up a city:  School kids heading off to school,  deliveries being made to restaurants before they open, ceremonies taking place at temples and shrines, stumbling upon interesting architecture, finding delicious smells that need to be investigated. And all of this is possible because you are traveling at your own pace and you're able to stop at any time. A taxi takes you from one point to another. A bike takes you on an adventure. 

How do you use Docomo's Bike Share?

The easiest way to check out the bikes is to first sign up on their website. The webpage for member's registration is in Japanese. If you can't read Japanese, you will need this detailed English  guide to know exactly what to click and what to enter. Since this process might be difficult on a smartphone, it's best to complete this step at home or at your accommodation. Whether using the bike for a one time trip or regularly, you will need to register your information and add credit card information.

To rent a bicycle, log into the membership website, choose a docking port (bike hub), choose a bicycle, and check the passcode. On the bike's electronic panel, press the START button and enter the passcode. The lock will open automatically. You can also rent a bike with an IC card (for example, Suica or Pasmo), which you need to register first, and the exact procedure can be found on the same English guide.

A single use costs ¥150 for the first 30 minutes and ¥100 for every 30 minutes thereafter. Monthly membership costs ¥2,000 and the first 30 minutes are free. Extensions will incur a ¥100 charge for ever 30 minutes. A 1-day pass costs ¥1,500 (+¥500 if availing of the exclusive IC card). To purchase a 1-day pass, you can visit a Docomo Bike Share kiosk or counter, locations available on a map in the English guide. The 1-day pass is the only service you can pay for with cash or credit card. The single trip and monthly membership must be paid for by credit card.

Go on. Get on your own bike share adventure.
Docomo bike share via

Sherilyn Siy