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Umbrella initiative under a cloud

IT never rains but it pours for the Metro operator after passengers took advantage of a public-spirited initiative to acquire themselves free umbrellas. Some 30,000 new loan umbrellas were on offer at Metro stations last week, but already many have gone "missing." The operator said the return rate is slightly above 50 percent, following rain last week, even though commuters were supposed to leave cellphone numbers. "Some passengers left fake cellphone numbers," said Metro officials. Station staff call them once they fail to return umbrellas within seven days. The free service, called "Love Umbrella," was first launched six years ago and proved popular. But as the original stock of 20,000 umbrellas dwindled to just 600, the operator arranged for reinforcements a week ago. At Metro Line 2's Jiangsu Road Station in downtown area, passengers have borrowed 10 umbrellas but only one has been returned, said the operator. Even worse is Line 3's Shanghai Railway Station where from six umbrellas lent, not one made it back. However, passengers appear rather more honest at Line 2's Jing'an Temple Station, where all 15 borrowed umbrellas were returned within the week. People can borrow an umbrella by registering their name and cellphone number, and are expected to return it to the same station or others within a week. Some Metro riders have complained about the umbrellas' poor quality, saying they are afraid to be fined for returning a broken brolly. The operator has also called for volunteers to repair broken umbrellas. To reduce losses, the Metro authority is introducing some changes. "We now only give the umbrellas to those who ask for them, instead of handing them out voluntarily at station entrances and exits," explained a Metro official surnamed Zhuang.

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