Public bikes are key to creating bike friendly communities that promote bike riding as a viable alternative to driving and public transport.
How public bikes began
From little things…
It’s not surprising that the original public bikes were set up in one of the world’s cities most synonymous with bikes, Amsterdam.
In 1965, before Amsterdam became a biking mecca, a group of anarchists, ‘Provo’, dropped 50 bikes painted white across the city that were free for anyone to use. Their aim was to encourage more environmentally friendly habits and make it easier for the masses to get around – a virtue that still exists today.
The Provo bikes are now known as the “first generation” of share bikes, however they were wildly unsuccessful and Police didn’t take long to remove them, but they did get some heavy publicity.
It was 30 years before the “second generation” appeared in Copenhagen. That system required users to insert a coin into the bike as a deposit and survived for a few years, battling high theft and low numbers.
Then everything changed.
‘Velib’ was launched in Paris in 2007. These were the first of the “third generation”, characterized by information technology based systems which proved to be a game-changer.
Since then use has skyrocketed worldwide. The need for greener, healthier and more equitable mass transit, is more relevant now than ever.
So much so that there are now millions of public bikes worldwide. A number that is ever-increasing and a number that Australia is now contributing to.
Public bikes in Australia
Melbourne Bike Share (MBS) and CityCycle in Brisbane were launched in 2010, pioneering bike sharing in Australia, but both were plagued by low usage over their first few years.
Many potential reasons for low usage have been thrown about, from mandatory helmet laws to Melbourne’s free tram network, however it seems most likely that a small network of bikes and docks is the biggest factor. Taking a share bike is not all that compelling if you can’t park it close to your destination.
Daily rides under the MBS spiked every year in January when European tourism also spikes with the Australian Open. These results suggest that cultures more familiar with active travel and bike riding are more likely to embrace the bikes.
That battle is still being fought however, now by new kids on the block oBike and ReddyGo, dockless fleets of bikes that don’t have the issues MBS and CityCycle deal with when it comes to docks – people can park them virtually anywhere.
Using dockless bikes is simple. You locate, unlock and pay for your bike using the app. For both oBike and Reddy Go it costs $1.99 for half an hour, and you earn credit points if you report misuse of the bikes.
Dockless share bikes predicted to take off
oBike head of Australian marketing, Chethan Rangaswamy, said there is no reason they won’t take off in Australia.
“Australians are free-spirited. Our dockless system will offer absolute convenience and enable them to cycle to their preferred destinations. They can simply return and park the bikes at any bike-parking areas,” he said.
“We want to make sure we have a sustainable relationship with our users, the public & the local authorities, work closely with the transportation providers and urban planners to offer oBike as the eco-friendly mode of transportation to support the current infrastructure.”
oBikes have copped criticism however. With people believing they clutter the streets, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed between oBike and Melbourne councils.
The MOU allows improperly parked oBikes to be cleared off the streets.
Bike share companies in Sydney may face similar battles, but they seem up for it with ofo, Airbike and Earthbike all operating.
Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards says that the virtues of bike sharing systems need to be understood and embraced.
“A more bike friendly city will result in less congestion, less of a strain on public transport and healthier people. It would also create a much more livable Melbourne that isn’t choked by cars” he said.
“With new technologies and new systems, they do take time to sort themselves out”.
Public bikes in Australia
International public bike schemes
The incredible success of bike share schemes overseas should give us hope. Widespread use in Europe, a continent known for its love of bike riding, is one thing, but no one could have predicted the popularity elsewhere.
Chinese firm Ofo has dropped 6 million bikes on the streets of Asia and plans to add more than 10 million more shortly.
Even there, where the daily use is astronomical, there are critics. Motor scooter owners have protested the loss of their parking.
But given the positive effect more bike riders has on emissions in these heavily polluted cities, authorities are more likely to see the bright side.
Elsewhere, the way forward is diversifying. Copenhagen has introduced eBike sharing. Auto giant, Ford, is dipping its toe in and partnering with the San Francisco Bike Share system.
Chicago and New York lead the way in the US and are expanding their bike share systems which is propelling them up the list of most bike friendly cities.
The birthplace of bike sharing, however, has a complicated relationship with its creation.
Dockless bikes have been banned in Amsterdam after it became clear that the city‘s already bike-flooded streets couldn’t cope with the five dockless bike share companies that had set up there. In a country that has the most bikes per capita, there was always going to be a tipping point.
Regardless, the outcome is overwhelming. Bike share systems exist in over 1000 cities.
Councils and governments are now planning for and welcoming the existence of bike sharing as a viable alternative to driving. It is important for Australia to embrace this change or risk falling behind.