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Bicycle share service users surged in central Tokyo after a powerful earthquake shook the capital’s metropolitan area and stranded many train passengers Thursday night.

According to Docomo Bike Share Inc., a provider of nationwide rental bicycle services under the wing of mobile giant NTT Docomo Inc., users of its services greatly increased in the capital’s Chiyoda and Minato wards, where East Japan Railway Co. briefly stopped train services after Thursday’s magnitude of 5.9 earthquake that struck at 10:41 p.m that night.

Most bike stations operated by the company in the center of Tokyo had no available bicycles left. Many of them were later returned to stations in Tokyo’s residential areas, including Koto and Ota wards.

“It’s rare for bicycles in central Tokyo to be rented out all at once during the night time, when (people’s) movements usually calm down,” a Docomo Bike Share official said. The company provides some 9,200 motor-assisted bicycles at about 870 bike stations in 11 wards in Tokyo.

As an emergency measure, the company decided not to charge extension fees for use of bicycles that started between the time the quake occurred and 5 a.m. Friday.

A woman in her 30s living in Tokyo borrowed a bicycle for the first time after she was stranded at a train station an hour’s walk away from home.

“I had never thought about using (a rental bicycle) as a means of transportation in case of emergency,” she said. “It was very convenient. I hope the services will be more widely used.”

However, while acknowledging the usability of rental bicycles in times of natural disasters, Takeshi Hagiwara, a section chief at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s general disaster prevention department, cautioned residents against moving right after a big disaster.

“It’s a general rule not to move unnecessarily in times of large disasters,” like the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Hagiwara said.

“We ask people to try to secure safety and gather information first,” he added.

Docomo Bike Share has the same view, calling on users of its services to check road conditions before taking a bike.

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