The European Cyclists' Federation (ECF) examines the growth in public bike share systems, and why their rise is good news for the entire bicycle industry.
Bike sharing programs have recently been in the headlines after a recent report on Barcelona's 'Bicing' scheme cast the program in glowing terms.
Researchers concluded the program saves 12,28 lives a year, reduces CO2 emissions by 9,062 metric tonnes, and proved that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the dangers by a factor of 77.
But as main-stream media "discovers" these benefits, we in the industry often forget that the bike share revolution has already been under way for quite a while.
In 2001 only a few systems were in operation throughout Europe more than 400 are now in operation. Indeed, as a recent UN report notes, bike sharing has gone from “interesting experiments in urban mobility to mainstream public transport options in cities as large and complex as Paris and London”. Growth in this area has outstripped that of any other area of urban transport.
Picture: Growth in Selected Bicycle Sharing Schemes (In Selected Countries, 2005-2010)
The bicycle world has seen them develop and grow in both complexity and size. From humble unlocked painted bicycles in the Netherlands in the late 1960’s, smart cards and docking stations came to France in the 1990s. In the 21st century we’re seeing the installation of GPS tracking capabilities and the incorporation of e-bikes.
The bike-sharing flotilla has burgeoned outside Europe. Hangzhou, China, has a fleet of more than 40,000 bicycles. Korean city Changwon has added this new form of transport in a country that remains wholly car-centric.
Bike Share System in Changwon, Korea.
From ECF's Perspective, what we’re noticing among both our members and our corporate sponsors is that bike sharing systems are improving the image of cycling. They promote cycling as a normal activity, and getting more people out of their cars and onto bicycles. Any city that wants to be seen as a forward thinking city has been quick to add a PBSS to the transport mix. They’re popping up in London, Dublin, Barcelona, Paris and Melbourne, all of which are not normally coined ‘Bicycle Cities’.
This normalization is good news, and is most definitely good for business. Our members across Europe have been quick to tell us that these bike share systems encourage private bicycle usage. In Paris, for example, consumers have bought more than 2 million bicycles since the city launched its huge Velib bike share program.
“They can never provide enough bikes to significantly alter the percentage of modal share but they can bring people back onto their private bikes and offer a transport ‘complement’ whenever it is needed” says Janet Büttner, Coordinator of the OBIS project which produces significant research European bike share systems.
She says they can be “considered as a catalyst for change”; and it appears that this catalyst is twofold. Not only does it encourage more people to get on their bicycles, it also appears to muster more political will for improving bicycle infrastructure. Neither Barcelona nor Paris had much in the way of cycling infrastructure before their bike share systems, but they've been rapidly developing them since. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to connect the dots: better infrastructure = more cycling= more bicycles being sold. It appears to be a win-win situation for all involved.
Bike Share Schemes have clearly been cemented into the mobility portfolio in many medium and large cities for years to come.
Now when we campaign for cycling infrastructure, we are also speaking on behalf of a growing, exciting, sexy, new and public form of transport. This is good news for the bicycle industry and advocates alike.