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Hangzhou Bicycle Service claims to be the largest public bike hire scheme in the world. Photo provided to China Daily


China"s Hangzhou Bicycle Service, which claims to be the largest public bike-sharing scheme in the world, has won an international award for sustainable transport from an organization based in the UK.

An Ashden Award is among the most prestigious honors in the field of sustainable energy and green solutions. Founded in 2001, the Ashden Awards have rewarded more than 200 enterprises globally that it says have collectively improved the lives of some 80 million people, saving more than 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

Since the launch of the Hangzhou Bicycle Service in May 2008, it has allowed people free access to thousands of bicycles that have been used more than 700 million times. The free rent of the bikes is made possible because of an innovative financial model.

The city has more than 3,600 bicycle stands that have been installed 200 to 300 meters apart. Users hand over a returnable deposit of 23 pounds ($30) and can use a bike for free for the first hour. They can get subsequent free hours, as long as they return the bike to a bike stand, dock it and undock it every hour.

According to the Ashden judges: "The scale and efficiency of this public bike hire scheme, a vital component of Hangzhou"s well-run integrated transport system, is like nothing we"ve seen elsewhere, dwarfing both London and Paris in scale. They are making cycling part of everyday life."

Funded by the government, the project earns income by selling the advertising rights to more than 3,000 bicycle sites, and by renting out the service kiosks, which generates money for staff and maintenance costs.

The city of Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province, has been encouraging locals to use the public bicycle service as a way of tackling air pollution. The concept of public bicycles has since spread to 30 other provinces in China and some 207 cities nationwide.

Wu Guoxiong, operations director at Hangzhou Bicycle Service, said the award was recognition of China"s efforts to save energy and reduce carbon emissions and to take on wider environmental issues.

The scheme was hatched as a way to ease congestion in the city and make the final leg of people"s commutes easier, Wu said, noting that it also became a great way to tackle climate change, air pollution, and reduce carbon emissions.

"We hope that the Ashden Award will help us to promote our scheme as an industry leader around the world and encourage other cities in China to replicate the system," Wu said."We do this so that future generations can enjoy clean air, blue skies, and a healthier way of life."

Chen Yuqin, who supervises one of the city"s bike stands, said: "The award to Hangzhou Bicycle Service is a great motivation for us to continue providing this ground-breaking service and I am honored to be a part of it."