I spent the whole week looking for data to make a special and informational post about what it’s like to live here in Guiyang, but reflecting on how I always skip paragraphs with too many numbered points, I believe we’ll all have a better experience (me writing and you reading) if I share some links at the end of this text if you are interested in knowing a little more.
Some important information. 1. Each province has a certain independence on specific public policies. 2. I live in Guizhou, which was until recently the poorest province in China, and even with all the investment made in recent years, there is still a lot to be done. 3. The capital is different from the countryside, the structure I have here is very different from smaller cities 4. I love bicycles.
Leaving any political issues aside, I would like to present how I see the transport system in a city with just under five million inhabitants and considered by many Chinese to be an underdeveloped provincial capital. In 2016, when I first moved to Guiyang, crosswalks were merely for show, the construction of the subway was behind schedule and nobody knew when we would have it at all, taxis had a base rate of 8 RMB (about $1.20 USD/£0.88 GBP at the time), passengers were fought over (literally–I’ve seen fights between drivers) between black taxi and motorcycle taxi drivers and, finally, bus fares it cost 2 RMB ($0.33/£0.22) and, as in Brazil, depending on the destination and time, there were no formal stops or ways to easily get on or off. Personally, I never had any problems, but I used this system very little the first year.
A year later, 2017, the first rental bicycles began to appear in the city. Around here, there were at least 3 companies. You had to register, pay 200 RMB as a deposit, scan the bike’s QR code, turn on your cell phone’s Bluetooth, and presto–you were ready to explore the city. But what seemed like a solution became a nightmare: some people hid their bikes, while others managed to break the rear wheel lock system and use the bike without paying. Maintenance was scarce, the bikes were heavy for a city with many hills and with no bicycle friendly districts (at least not in downtown), and finally, every week you could see workers removing bicycles from the river that cuts through the city. It didn’t take long for me to give up trying to find them and buy my own.
As a result, bicycles were disappearing–not only in Guiyang, but in other regions as well. Many companies went bankrupt, and when OFO (one of the biggest companies) went bankrupt, bicycles were never seen for rent in Guiyang again and I never got my deposit back. Some cities like Kunming, Shanghai, and Chengdu still had bicycles, but these cities were also more suitable for bicycles and there were many more bike lanes.
Anyone who thinks that this means getting around Guiyang is complicated is wrong. The city was very similar to any city with the same number of inhabitants in Brazil; the main difference was the amount of potholes and taxis. The use of verbs in the past is due to the fact that today 2021, the city has two subway lines in operation and a third under construction, taxis now cost 10 RMB ($1.55/£1.12) as a base fare and they compete with DIDIs (Chinese Uber/Lyft), bus tickets still cost 2 RMB ($0.31/£0.22), and after an extensive campaign in the city center, crosswalks are respected by cars and pedestrians.
NOW THEY HAVE RETURNED
I don’t remember when I first saw electric bikes for rent, but I do remember my excitement about trying them out. First they were placed in a newer part of the city which thankfully had adequate space and demarcated lanes for bicycles.
Bikes can only be rented by people over 16 years old, but no one is surprised to see someone younger driving an electric bike, since the bikes are rented by apps. Once you enter the data on your cell phone, you don’t need to enter it again–that is, an adult, who does not intend to rent a bicycle, can give their personal information for registration, and once they do so, a minor can rent a bicycle as many times as they want. For foreigners, the problem is that many applications do not have the option to register your passport as a form of ID, considering the foreign population and the percentage of those who would be interested in renting the bikes. I understand the lack of interest in making it accessible for foreigners, but it would still be excellent have more than two options considering the number of companies in existence today.
Today, companies have learned from the problems of the past. Bicycles have a GPS control system built in. They have permission to go to only some areas of the city. If you try to ride in another neighborhood or district, the bicycle issues an alert and, a few minutes later, it stops working. Due to the battery pack the bicycle is too heavy to pedal more than a few meters. Similarly, when you arrive at your destination, there are marked spaces on the sidewalks where bicycles and scooters from your specific rental company can be parked. Not all spaces are for the bike you rented; you need to check if you are in the right place, otherwise you have to pay an extra fee.
Translation: Please park inside the parking structure indicated by the letter P.
When returning the car, please park inside the gray area indicated by the letter P.
Just like the first time, every day a new bicycle rental company appears and it’s impossible to know which will survive and how long it will last. The fact is that, little by little, companies with greater purchasing power are already investing in scooters for rent. Hellobike, one of the few companies that survived the first generation of rental bicycles, recently announced that it will invest heavily in rental scooters.
Finally, it is worth remembering that everyone has different needs, priorities and preferences when choosing how they want to get around. I’ve always loved bikes and that’s why the focus is on them. The child who lives in me celebrates every time I rent an electric bike, and my bike remains at home waiting for the summer to end before being used again.
Proofreader/Translator Evelyn Jamila