Bike Sharing Systems

Bicycle sharing systems have been appearing in more and more cities around the world in the last few years. According to the Bike Sharing Blog, there were approximately 160 or so bike sharing systems globally at the end of 2009, which is up nearly 74% from 92 bike sharing systems at the end of 2008. Therefore, Utility decided it was high time to write a few posts dedicated to bike sharing systems. The first post will be primarily an informational post and will not really get into some of the debates and issues surrounding existing and/or proposed bike sharing systems. Instead, we would first like to write briefly about what exactly constitutes a bike sharing system, the history of bike sharing systems, different types of bike sharing systems, and current bike sharing systems. Header image source – Treehugger.

Bike Sharing Systems

Bike share refers to systems that provide short-term access to bicycles for use by the public. Bicycles from a bike share system are typically available in cities with other forms of public transportation to provide for intermodal transportation (transportation that involves more than one mode – ie. bus to bike, rail to bike, etc.) options for the public. The bicycles are usually available for free or a low rental fee, which can range from hourly to yearly, from unattended stations (although there are some bike share examples that have had stations with attendants). However, bike sharing differs from bike rentals, because the emphasis of bike share is for transit, not tourism. Bike sharing systems are typically not owned by private businesses or individuals; instead, bike sharing systems are often run by city governments, public-private partnerships, community groups, non-profits, schools, etc. You can also see the definition available from StreetsWiki, Wikipedia, and the Bike-Sharing Blog.

Bike-Share-BIXIImage Source: Wikipedia

History of Bike Sharing

Bike sharing originated in Europe, in Amsterdam to be exact, in the 1960’s. The person credited with the idea for the first bike share is one Luud Schimmelpennick, who is something of an inventor, entrepreneur, designer, thinker, what-have-you. Luud and a few of his friends came up with the idea for the White Bicycle in 1965, which was associated with the youth movement PROVO. Luud and colleagues gathered a handful of bicycles, which they painted white and distributed around the city of Amsterdam for free use by the public. Unfortunately, most of the bikes were quickly confiscated or stolen, but a strong memory or urban legend still lingers around the idea of the White Bicycle in Amsterdam. Despite being elected to the Municipal Council in 1967, Luud could not get the necessary political support for the White Bicycle to really work, and it was not really considered very successful at the time. Nonetheless, the White Bicycle certainly provided the impetus and inspiration for modern bicycle sharing systems.

You can learn a bit more about Luud and the White Bicycle in the video below, which we originally posted as the Pedal Power Excerpt via Amsterdamize.

In the 1970’s, the city of La Rochelle, France, launched a free yellow bicycle program for the public, which is considered the first successful example of a bike sharing system. Many other cities around the world followed suit through the 1990’s and early 2000’s with similar programs, many of which turned out to be unsustainable due to theft, vandalism, or lack of support. In the 2000’s cities such as Toronto, which had a BikeShare Program that operated from 2001 to 2006, as part of the Community Bicycle Network (CBN), started to get behind the idea of bike sharing for intermodal and sustainable transportation alternatives. The Toronto BikeShare was considered to be very successful at the time, but more recent programs that utilize smart cards, advertising, manned stations to check the bikes in and out, and other features to deal with some of the problems encountered by early bike sharing systems have been much more successful.

Types of Bike Sharing Systems

There are actually quite a few different types of bike sharing systems. The idea behind all of these systems is similar – to provide short-term access to bicycles for transit – but the operation varies from place to place and organization to organization. There are numerous ways of describing or defining the different types of bike sharing systems, but perhaps one of my favorites is from The City of Portland Office of Transportation (see below).

1st Generation: Organic, no-tech, unstructured approach first implemented in Amsterdam in the late 1960s. Re-conditioned bikes painted common color, placed for free use throughout city with no restrictions. Bikes are often stolen or damaged. Examples include Amsterdam White Bikes (1969), Portland Yellow Bikes (1994-96), and Madison Red Bikes.2nd Generation: Low-tech, moderate expense. Singular design to deter theft, bikes unlocked through coin deposit lock. No tracking of bicycles; systems never reached critical mass. Examples include Copenhagen (City Bikes), Helsinki, and Toronto. Melbourne is reportedly exploring such a system.3rd Generation: High-tech, expensive ($500 – $4000/bike). Smart Card or cell phone technology allows for quick access and better tracking of fleet. Cell phone activated systems tend to have a much lower capital ($500-$1500) and operating costs than Smart Card systems. Several, highly publicized successful programs include Paris, Lyon, and Barcelona (all Smart Card technology). Cell phone programs (aka Call a Bike) are prominent in Germany.

As you can see, bike sharing systems range from low-tech to high-tech. They also differ in terms of management. Some bikes can be checked out
from attendants (for example, at a university), while other bikes are accessible via a coin-operated machine that dispenses the bike. Below is a video that one of our readers pointed out to us that describes a bike sharing system for students, which is a relatively common example of bike sharing.

We also recently posted about a similar bike sharing system in Tucson at the University of Arizona, in which the bicycle has to be returned to one location by a certain time at the end of the day. Other common examples are city-wide systems, such as BIXI, with stations posted throughout the city where a rider can pick-up or drop-off the bicycles. These appear to be the most common types of systems, but let us know if you are familiar with others!

Current Bike Sharing Systems

Rather than try to list all of the bike sharing systems throughout the world, I wanted to share this great map that I found at the Bike Sharing Blog. The Bike-sharing World Map shows the location of 2nd and 3rd Generation Bike Sharing Systems from around the world and provides a bit of information about each of them. I would imagine that there are many bike sharing systems not included on this list, so let us know about others or submit unlisted programs to the Bike-sharing World Map.

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