Since 2004, in 500 cities and 50 countries, shared bicycles have increased 10 fold. These numbers are not slowing down, but increasing.
The Earth Policy Institute (EPI) projects that even the US, which lags behind, has (in 2012) 21 schemes with 8,500 bicycles, and the EPI expects the fleet to more than quadruple by 2014. Americans are catching on and catching up with the rest of the world. Wouldn’t it be nice if we caught up to Paris not only in bikes but in price, where the rental fees for sharing a bicycle cost $2.30. Paris works with JCDecaux, an advertising firm, which pays for the program in exchange for advertising space on bus stops and billboards. In Paris, the Vélib scheme, which opened in 2007, has already racked up 173 million journeys. At that price, why would one not bike?
Bicycle share systems work on the essential idea that a person hires a bicycle at one of a number of docking stations around the city, and returns it there or to another one. Generally, the first 30 minutes are free for members. There is variation in this regards, though. Annual memberships vary from a $35 deposit to a $145 fee. Typically, the longer one uses the bike, the more fare increases.
Country to country and city to city, however, one finds many differences in the systems. For example two-wheelers vary from the jangles of basic frames without a high-tech style in Hangzhou (China) to the polished, fully accommodating, high-end models with built-in GPS and smart tablets that will be launched in Copenhagen next month.
Take heart, Americans. Note the inherent struggle within the story of bicycle sharing systems. The Economist explains a short history of bike sharing programs: even the Dutch with their leading, inspired bicycle culture had an uneasy start with this concept. In the 1960s, bicycle sharing began as 50 “free bikes” were placed around Amsterdam. The wholesome idea was met with theft and all the bikes were soon gone. Following that, bicycle advocates for shared bicycles elsewhere implemented coin-operated bicycle stations. They were also stolen.
Okay, so fresh ideas still need considerable protection from the underbelly of a city. It was only after those attempts that the problem of theft was solved. Innovative bicycle advocates came up with electronic docking stations and credit-card payments.
Continuing, The Economist reports that, “Susan Shaheen, an expert on sustainable transport at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks that bike-sharing is now heading towards a fourth, less wobbly generation. Innovations such as mobile solar-powered docking stations and IT-based redistribution systems (to get the bikes to the right place at the right time) are already well established. Some cities are now moving on to offer seamless integration with public transport.”
The broken system of gas-fueled autos is our undoing. As this structure fails, better waves of transit prevail. There is adventure in the open road, the open air. Recreated transit structures offer combination travel: mass transit, pedestrian pathways, and bike shares conveniently working together. Bike shares offer a lifestyle that recreates the broken system. Bike shares are part of a new, working system, and improved cultural identity.
Time to start more education with the young on bicycle safety rules, as well as providing them with bikes.
Image Credits: Amsterdam, Holland, 083–1 million bikes by Claudio.Ar; Diễu hành xe đạp ở Festival biển Nha Trang 2011, Áo dài & Xe đạp by Khánh Hmoong; Happy little girl riding on rainbows by Pink Sherbet Photography