There are now more than 1,000 public bike hire schemes. Why are they so popular?

Montreal's Bixi hire scheme. Image: Getty.

As urbanisation and modernisation reach unprecedented levels, road congestion has become a modern day menace. Heavy traffic is associated with air pollution, safety risks, and losses in terms of accessibility, economic competitiveness, sustainable growth and social cohesion. If we are determined to make our cities attractive and sustainable, we must respond to these challenges.

There are a number of measures available to address this problem; either by restricting conventional car use, or providing viable alternatives. None of these solutions is more up-and-coming and marketable right now than the shared use of mobility resources – for example, car sharing. And none of them more environmentally friendly than cycling, which more and more people see as a realistic way of making shorter trips.

Put these two together, and you get bike sharing: an innovation that combines the best qualities of both solutions, while extending the reach and scope of public transport. 

The benefits 

Bike sharing schemes have many benefits: transport flexibility, reductions to vehicle emissions, health benefits, reduced congestion and fuel consumption, and financial savings for individuals.

But the most special quality of public bicycles is the idea of sharing. By sharing with others through a publicly available scheme, individuals can use bicycles on an “as-needed” basis, without the costs and responsibilities associated with ownership. In doing so, these schemes allow people who may not otherwise use bicycles, to enjoy the benefits of cycling; whether they’re tourists or locals.

Coming through! Image: Sama093/Flickr/creative commons.

Bike sharing schemes can also act as a door opener for increased bicycle use, by making a strong visual statement that bicycles do belong on a city’s streets. My own research has found that commuters using on-road transport can see bike sharing as a powerful on-street “cycling promotion campaign”.

What’s more, other studies report that cycling increased in cities which implemented bike sharing schemes, noting that these results reflect the combined impact of improvements to cycling facilities, as well as the provision of bike sharing schemes. Some go even further by suggesting that the introduction of bike sharing systems can cause cycling to be seen as a safe and normal mode of transport, in contexts where it’s not common.


Origins

Bike sharing is a concept originating back to the 1960s. However, it was slow to catch on until better technology was developed, which could provide real-time information about the scheme, track the bikes and help safeguard against theft.

Now, bike sharing is booming at an unprecedented rate, largely due to the reasonably low cost of the schemes, and how easy they are to implement compared with other transport infrastructure. And it’s an easy win for governments and urban societies, which can boost their green credentials by embracing such an environmentally friendly design.

In 2004, only 11 cities had adopted bike sharing. Today, more than 1,000 public bicycle schemes of varying sizes and specifications run in more than 50 countries, across five continents.

Europe’s biggest scheme is the Paris Vélib', with 1,800 stations and more than 20,000 bikes. Hangzhou, China hosts the world’s largest system – three times bigger than Vélib' – which is set to expand to 175,000 bikes by 2020. Perhaps the most sophisticated scheme is Copenhagen’s Bycyklen, which has a fleet of electric bicycles featuring weather resistant tablets with GPS.

So fancy. Image:  Tony Webster/Flickr/creative commons.

According to recent research into Gothenburg’s Styr & Ställ scheme, if bike sharing is properly promoted, the general population of the city feels that such schemes offer a pro-environmental, inexpensive and healthy mode of transport. In particular, they were seen to complement the city’s public transport services, and give the city a more human-friendly feel.


Getting it right

But research and experience tell us that there can be problems with bike sharing. For example, although the usage rate of these schemes tends to vary globally between three and eight trips per bicycle per day, some facilitate as few as 0.3 trips per bicycle per day.

Apart from under use, schemes can also prove slow to expand, or come up against sluggish and complicated planning procedures. They can create political friction, too, if local authorities are unwilling to forsake street parking spaces for bike stations. Strict cycling regulations can also be a roadblock: in both Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia, compulsory helmets were found to deter many potential riders. Safety concerns and a lack of cycling infrastructure – such as bike lanes – were also found to affect uptake.

Despite these difficulties, bike sharing schemes are, on the whole, a win for everyone. Rebranding something as conventional as urban cycling in a way that embraces the philosophy of shared resource economies and is well accepted by the public, is a timely investment for actively promoting sustainable transportation. Cities that come up with strong and coherent plans will find that recognisable bike sharing schemes can form a powerful and positive part of their image. Meanwhile, civilians of all stripes stand to benefit from clearer roads and cleaner air – whether they cycle or not.The Conversation

Alexandros Nikitas is senior lecturer in transport at the University of Huddersfield.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.


There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).