• Bike-sharing hubs have been spotted in downtown Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
• The bike-share scheme could be an attempt to alleviate a fuel shortage in the reclusive state.
The bike-sharing revolution has arrived in North Korea.
Bike-share schemes that allow people to borrow a bike from point A and return it to point B for a small fee have taken off in cities around the world, including New York, San Francisco, Paris, and Hangzhou. The programs are heralded for their convenience and minimal environmental impact.
Yellow and green bikes began hitting the streets of Pyongyang in June, amid an apparent fuel shortage in North Korea. They are “meant to provide convenience for citizen’s transportation,” according to China’s People’s Daily Online, which cited an anonymous North Korean city-development official.
A fuel shortage in North Korea has not been confirmed publicly, but rising gas and diesel prices suggest the country’s supply might be tightening.
— Bike Share Japan (@bikesharejapan) June 19, 2017
A bike rental doesn’t come cheap. Cyclists pay 40 won per minute or a fixed rate of 3,000 won per hour (or about $23 an hour), according to North Korea monitoring website NK News. This is considerably more than the five-won tickets residents buy to ride the city’s metro system.
Reports about the new bike-share scheme should be taken with a grain of salt. Many news outlets attribute details about the program to anonymous North Korean sources.
Chris O’Carroll, founder and CEO of research and analysis platform Korea Risk Group, posted a tweet on Monday evening that shows one of the new bike-sharing racks in Pyongyang.
A poster behind the bikes shows a snowy landscape with missile launchers clinging to the side of a cliff. It has no text, making the image all the more striking.
Check out the 'advertising' on North Korea's new bike rental scheme in downtown Pyongyang: pic.twitter.com/hNuFgNweMo
— Chad O'Carroll (@chadocl) September 19, 2017
It’s unclear if the bikes are available for renting yet — and how much demand there may be for the service. Many commuters in Pyongyang already own bicycles, according to NK News.
Residents cycling to work via the bike-sharing program, rather than driving or riding public transportation, could have a small impact on North Korea’s apparent fuel shortage.
North Korea gets most of its fuel from China. But the price of gasoline and diesel shot up after a Chinese state-owned oil company suspended fuel sales to the reclusive state last spring. The decision came amidst international scrutiny of China’s commercial ties with North Korea.
Last week, the United Nations Security Council passed new sanctions against North Korea that cap its refined petroleum product imports, which includes gas, diesel, and heavy fuel oil, at two million barrels per year. The resolution could cause fuel price hikes to climb further.