'White-bike' plan aims to ease traffic

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AMSTERDAM -- In an effort to alleviate traffic tie-ups and make the city more enjoyable for locals and tourists, Amsterdam recently unveiled a public bicycle program. It is to be available to foreign visitors by the spring.

In September, the city's transportation authorities presented 250 bicycles to the public as part of a program to persuade residents to leave their cars at home. The so-called "white bikes" are stored around Amsterdam at five centrally located depots.

Riders, who have to present a Dutch bank card before pedaling away with a bike, pay 50 cents to rent one. They then have 30 minutes to return the bike to any of the depots.

The identification system allows the city to keep track of the last user. If the bike is not returned, the city will notify the rider and request that they return it.

The bikes are equipped with lights, adjustable seats and puncture-proof tires. If successful, in a year the program will be expanded to 45 locations and 750 bikes.

By April, hotels will have rental cards for foreign tourists and maps with depot locations.

Because riders only will have 30 minutes to return the bikes, the program is not expected to hurt business at local bike shops, at which locals and visitors can rent bikes by the hour, day or longer.

This is not the first time Amsterdam has experimented with the bike program. The city tried it in the 1960s but abandoned it when most of the bikes were stolen, but with the new system, thefts are not expected to be a problem.

If the thought of riding a bike through the unfamiliar streets of a major European city doesn't appeal to you right away, consider that cycling provides an opportunity to see the city the way many Dutch residents see it every day.

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