By Paul Halychuk
Following the rapid growth of bike-share programs in Europe, a number of North American cities are now considering following suit, with some planning to launch similar programs in 2008. Chicago, San Francisco and Portland are currently reviewing implementation proposals from various companies. Montreal and Washington, DC are both planning to launch bike-share programs in 2008. In November, Metro Vancouver’s transit agency has requested proposals to study the feasibility of a bike-share program in the region.
In Europe, over 30 towns and cities now have bike-share programs. Paris started its program in July with over 10,000 bicycles located around the city. It has been so popular that the city plans to double the number of bicycles to 20,600 at 1451 locations in 2008. Within two months of launching, Barcelona’s program had signed up 30,000 members sharing 1,500 bicycles at 100 locations, and that city now plans to increase the number of bikes to 6,000 in 2008. In China, the Beijing government has announced plans for a bike rental program with 50,000 bicycles by summer 2008.
In the European bike-share programs, bicycles are secured at automated racks. Members of the program or, in some cases, almost anyone with a valid credit card, can release the bikes from the racks and use them at very little cost. The bikes can be returned to racks at other locations when the riders are finished with them. Although the programs are usually initiated by governments, the bicycles, racks, and card systems are often maintained by a contracted company.
Small-scale programs have been tried in North America before, often consisting of bikes left unlocked for the general public to use for free. Invariably, bikes were stolen and not replaced. It would seem to be technology that makes the difference between a sustainable system and one where the bikes disappear. The card systems identify who is using the bikes, and the users are responsible for returning them.
Paul DeMaio is the founder of MetroBike LLC, a company that consults on bike-share programs. DeMaio was asked why it is only now that bike-share programs are becoming more popular in North America.
“There has been great latent demand for bicycling in North America for quite some time. Bike sharing makes it that much easier. This, combined with improved and inexpensive smart card and mobile technology, rising petroleum prices, and a greater concern and commitment to fixing global warming has hastened the growth of bike sharing’s appeal in North America. Paris’ Velib’ bike-share program launching in July with plans to expand to 20,600 bikes hasn’t hurt either!”
DeMaio describes the factors for a successful program. “Important keys to success include committed partners, sustainable funding, ubiquity of bikes, and a bikeable environment.”
“Having a sizeable program is important. A small program will be overwhelmed by demand. Keeping the bikes well-maintained is also important, so customers can rely on the bikes and their safety. Bike sharing is transit, so customers expect nearly everything they would expect from riding a bus or taking the train.