A bicycle sharing system (also known as: Community bicycle program, Yellow bicycle programs, White bicycle programs, public bike or free bike) is an increasingly popular system whereby bicycles are made available on a large scale in a city allowing people to have ready access to these public bikes rather than rely on their own bikes. Municipal governments and community groups have promoted bicycle sharing systems as part of intermodal transportation by allowing people to shift easily from transit to bicycle and back again. By making alternatives to motorized travel easily accessible, they hope to reduce the carbon footprint of commuting as well as enable residents to become healthier through exercise.
Bicycle sharing systems can be divided into two general categories: community bike programs organized mostly by local community groups or non-profit organizations; and large scale public bike programs that are implemented by municipalities or through a public-private partnership as in the case of Paris’ Vélib’ program. The central concept of many of the systems is free or affordable access to bicycles for city transport in order to reduce the use of automobiles for short trips inside the city thereby diminishing traffic congestion, noise and air-pollution. A secondary goal is to reduce thefts of privately owned bicycles.
The earliest community bicycle program, or at least the most legendary, was started in the 1960s by Luud Schimmelpenninck in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This so-called White Bicycle Plan provided free bicycles that were supposed to be used for one trip and then left for someone else. Within a month, most of the bikes had been stolen and the rest were found in nearby canals. The program is still active in some parts of the Netherlands and other places like Helsinki and Copenhagen. It originally existed as one in a series of White Plans proposed in the street magazine produced by the anarchist group PROVO.
In 2000 Schimmelpenninck admitted that “the Sixties experiment never existed in the way people believe”, that “no more than about ten bikes” had been put out on the street “as a suggestion of the bigger idea”, but the police confiscated the bicycles within a day.
Many of the community-run bicycle programs paint each bicycle yellow, white, or another solid colour. This is usually done for two primary reasons. First, as a fleet of coloured bicycles begin to appear around the city, it helps to get the word out about the program. Secondly, many programs paint over the brand name and other distinguishing features of the bicycle, some even going so far as to paint every component such as the pedals, shifters, and wheels. This is helpful in deterring theft since the painted bicycle has little resale value.
Large scale bike sharing programs, however, have designed their own bike with singular designs of frame and other parts to prevent disassembly and resale of stolen parts.
Another advantage of bike sharing systems is that the smart cards allow the bikes can be returned at any station in the system, which facilitates one way rides to work, education or shopping centres. Thus, one bike may take 10-15 rides a day with different users and can be ridden up to 10,000 km (6000 miles) a year ( this figure from the city of Lyon, France). The distance between stations is 300-400 m (1000-1300 feet) in inner city areas.
It was found that to have a major impact —such as in Paris and Copenhagen— there has to be a high density of available bikes. Copenhagen has 2500 bikes which cannot be used outside the 9 km² zone of the city centre (a fine of DKr 1000 applies to any user taking bikes across the canal bridges around the periphery. Since Paris’ Velib program operates with an increasing fee past the free first half hour, users have a strong disincentive of taking the bicycles out of the city centre.
Bicycle Sharing System