Public Bicycle Schemes
Within an urban context public bicycles are a mobility service, mainly useful for proximity travel.
If you’ve in a town or a city you will be aware that the ownership and usage of a bicycle has a number of disadvantages: Parking; Theft; Maintenance.
However, from a “quality of life” point of view travel by bicycle offers many obvious advantages so many municipal governments are now promoting systems as part of intermodal transportation, allowing people to shift easily from other forms of transport to bicycle and back again.
For many years community groups have promoted bicycle sharing as an easily accessible alternative to motorized travel, hoping to reduce the carbon footprint of commuting as well as enable residents to become healthier through exercise. Public bicycle sharing systems are now being introduced officially in many cities throughout the world. The essential feature of such a scheme is that a number of bicycles are made available for shared use by individuals who do not own the bicycles.
Bicycle sharing systems can be divided into two general categories: Community Bike programs organized mostly by local community groups or non-profit organizations; and Smart Bike programs implemented by municipalities or through public-private partnerships, as in the case of Paris’ Vélib’. The central concept of many of the systems is free or affordable access to bicycles for short trips inside the city, as an alternative to motorised public transport or cars, thereby reducing traffic congestion, noise and air-pollution.
The current popularity of bike sharing is attributed by many to Paris’ successful launching in 2007 of Vélib’, a network of 20,000 specially designed bicycles distributed among 1450 stations throughout Paris. Vélib’, in turn, followed Lyon’s Vélo’v success and is now considered the largest system of its kind in the world. Bike sharing has spread to many other European cities and is currently enjoying surging popularity in North America. Two of more prominent launches have been a small program started in Washington D.C., and a much larger program, called Bixi, launched in Montreal in the spring of 2009.
Montreal’s Bixi program became North America’s largest bike sharing system in May 2009. Montreal began a limited pilot project of Bixi bike-sharing bicycles in fall 2008. Bixi is an effort to encourage locals and tourists to make use of the city’s already well-established network of bike paths. The rental bicycles are available from depots located throughout the city, where bikes can be rented from automated stations using a credit card. The system was expanded twice during 2009, with 5000 bicycles available at 400 depots. The fee schedule is designed to discourage day-trippers. In 2008 the Bixi program was ranked by Time Magazine as the 19th best invention in their 50 Best Inventions of 2008; recent newspaper editorials have been equally positive, always pointing out that although the bike fleets aren’t yet theft-proof the program hasn’t yet won over big government support either.
Some of the systems use mobile phones to reserve or sign out bikes. In the UK, OYBike is currently delivering small-scale operations which may grow to this scale organically at 2 Universities, 3 Business Parks, and 3 London Boroughs (and a Hotel chain in London). Like Berlin’s Call-a-Bike, OYBike uses mobile phone technology to log use and charge for hires and can set up hire points in as little as 10 minutes. Many of the business users can reclaim the cost of leasing bikes and hire points as part of a workplace cycling scheme or green travel plan. Research also reveals that for many major London rail stations an unknown number of the bikes parked are used only a couple of times per week, and the potential to replace these with hire bikes is widely ignored by UK rail operators.
London mayor Boris Johnson promised that an extensive bicycle sharing system modelled on the Paris Velib’ system would be introduced in London during his first term in office. It will be mainly be within the central zone, roughly bounded by the ‘Zone 1′ area of the Transport for London zoning system, and will comprise 400 docking stations when complete, at roughly 300 metre intervals. This program began operating on 30 June 2010, to great success. The scheme is sponsored by Barclays Bank and will be known as Barclays Cycle Hire.
Late in 2009, the University of California Irvine introduced its Zotwheels automated bike share program. Students and university employees may sign up for a Zotwheels membership card, which enables them to check out a bike from any bike station located throughout campus and drop it off at any other station. The program was developed as a collaboration between the UCI Parking and Transportation Services, The Collegiate Bicycle Company, CSL Ltd, and Miles Data Technologies. The Collegiate Bicycle Company now offers similar programs to interested campuses.
Dublinbikes ( one of the more successful schemes) is a public bicycle rental scheme which has been operated in the city of Dublin since 2009. The scheme uses 450 French-made unisex bicycles. Dublin was the 17th city to begin using this scheme (predecessors include Copenhagen, Lyon, and Paris), though Dublin City Council suggested the Dublin launch was better. The scheme is sponsored by JCDecaux.
The scheme was announced by Dublin City Council in 2006 when JCDecaux received 72 free advertising spaces around Dublin in a 15-year deal in return for the advertising company’s funding of the project. Critics argued that the deal was an expensive one when compared to Copenhagen where companies pay to have their logos attached to the bicycle. 450 bicycle stands were installed in groups of ten and twenty in forty locations around Dublin from June 2009. The scheme was opposed by An Taisce who said it was “misuse of legislation by a local authority to facilitate a private development”.
On 10 May 2010 (post-launch), city councillors in Dublin voted for more advertising hoardings to be used to help with payments, with more than 30,000 people having subscribed (1,500 was the predicted number of subscribers for this stage of the project).
On 14 August 2010, it was announced that the scheme had reached its one millionth trip.
The robust unisex bicycles with a silver colour and blue rear mudguard were produced by the French bicycle company Mercier, in Hungary and are repaired by JCDecaux. They are three-speed bicycles with an adjustable cushioned saddle, always-on LED lighting, a locking system and a front bicycle basket.
Each station is equipped with an automatic rental terminal and stands for approximately 20 bicycles. 14 of the 40 terminals have credit card facilities enabling the user to purchase a 3 Day Ticket.
If a user arrives with a rented bicycle at a station without open spots, the terminal grants another fifteen minutes of free rental time. The rental terminals also display information about neighbouring dublinbike stations, including location, number of available bicycles and open stands. A fleet of bicycle-transporting vehicles are used to redistribute bicycles between empty and full stations.
In the first ten months of the scheme, it was reported that there were over 37,000 users, over 828,000 journeys, no accidents, no vandalism, and only one bike missing (this has since been recovered).
Due to the success of the scheme in its first year, a first phase of expansion has begun which will see an extra 100 bikes, 4 new stations and 400 new bike stands being added to the Dublinbikes network. I have been informed that the addition of 1,000 more bikes is being considered.