A bicycle-sharing system, public bicycle system, or bike-share scheme, is a service in which bicycles are made available for shared use to individuals on a very short term basis for a price. Bike share schemes allow people to borrow a bike from point A and return it at point B. Many bike-share systems offer subscriptions that make the first 30–45 minutes of use either free or very inexpensive, encouraging use as transportation. This allows each bike to serve several users per day. In most bike-share cities, casual riding over several hours or days is better served by bicycle rental than by bike-share. For many systems, smartphone mapping apps show nearby stations with available bikes and open docks.
Bike-share began in Europe in 1965 and a viable format emerged in the mid-2000s thanks to the introduction of information technology. As of June 2014[update], public bike share systems were available in 50 countries on five continents, including 712 cities, operating approximately 806,200 bicycles at 37,500 stations. As of May 2011[update], the Wuhan and Hangzhou Public Bicycle bike-share systems in China were the largest in the world, with around 90,000 and 60,000 bicycles respectively. Of the world's 15 biggest public bike share programs 13 of them are in China. By 2013, China had a combined fleet of 650,000 public bikes. With the arrival of dockless bike shares, there are now over 70 private dockless bikeshares operating a combined fleet of 16 million sharebikes in China. Beijing alone has 2.35 million sharebikes from 15 companies. The Vélib' in Paris is the largest outside China. The countries with the most dock based systems are Spain (132), Italy (104), and China (79). As of July 2013[update], the systems with the higher market penetration are both operating in France, the Parisian Velib' with 1 bike per 97 inhabitants and Vélo'v in Lyon with one bike per 121 residents.
Bicycle-sharing systems may be "Community Bike programmes" organised by local community groups or non-profit organisations as done in IIT Bombay; "Smart Bike programmes" implemented by government agencies sometimes in a public–private partnership as in London, or "smart bike programmes" operated by private companies as is the case in most cities in China. Their central concept is to provide free or affordable access to bicycles for short-distance trips in an urban area as an alternative to motorised public transport or private vehicles, thereby reducing congestion, noise, and air pollution. Bicycle-sharing systems have also been cited as a way to solve the "last mile" problem and connect users to public transit networks.
People use bike-share for various reasons. Some who would otherwise use their own bicycle have concerns about theft or vandalism, parking or storage, and maintenance. However, serving only stations, the service resembles public transit, and has therefore been criticised as less convenient than a privately owned bicycle used door-to-door. Government-run bicycle-sharing programmes can also prove costly to the public unless subsidised by commercial interests, typically in the form of advertising on stations or the bicycles themselves.
E-bike sharing is becoming more popular. The e-bikes are generally recharged upon parking them at their station. E-bikes extend the range of the bikes and make cities with more difficult topographies more accessible to biking. In 2009, Chiyu Chen proposed the Hybrid2-system which stores some of the pedal power on a (ultra) capacitor. Similar to vehicle-to-grid systems, the energy is then fed back to the main electricity grid. The Ohio State University announced plans to integrate electric assist bicycles as part of its bicycle share program launching in 2015.
Bicycle-sharing systems are an economic good, and are generally classified as a private good due to their excludable and rivalrous nature. While some bicycle-sharing systems are free, most require some user fee or subscription, thus excluding the good to paying consumers. Bicycle-sharing systems also provide a discrete and limited number of bikes, whose distribution can vary throughout a city. One person's usage of the good diminishes the ability of others to use the same good. Nonetheless, the hope of many cities is to partner with bike-share companies to provide something close to a public good. Public good status may be achieved if the service is free to consumers and there are a sufficient number of bicycles such that one person's usage does not encroach upon another's use of the good.
Bike-sharing systems have undergone changes which can be categorised into three key phases, or generations. These include the first generation, called white bikes (or free bikes); the second generation of coin-deposit systems; and the third generation, or information technology (IT) based systems. Recent technological and operational improvements are also paving the way for a fourth generation, known as the demand-responsive, multimodal system.
Although users of such systems generally pay to use vehicles that they themselves do not own, sharing systems differ from traditional for-profit bike rental businesses. The first bike sharing projects were largely initiated by local community organisations, either as charitable projects intended for the disadvantaged, or to promote bicycles as a non-polluting form of transport. In recent years, in an effort to reduce losses from theft and vandalism, many bike-sharing schemes now require a user to provide a monetary deposit or other security, or to become a paid subscriber. Most large-scale urban bike sharing programmes utilise numerous bike check-out stations, and operate much like public transit systems, catering to tourists and visitors as well as local residents. Some bike-sharing systems are completely free like Aarhus City Bikes in Denmark.
To date, no publicly owned and administered bicycle sharing programme has yet been able to consistently operate as a self-funding enterprise, using only revenues generated from membership subscriptions or user fees and charges. As a consequence, most publicly owned bicycle sharing systems utilise funding from public governmental and/or charitable sources. Bike sharing schemes may be administered by government entities, nonprofit private organisations, or via public-private partnerships.
Many bicycle sharing schemes have been developed by a variety of organisations over the years, all based on one or more of the following systems:
- In this type of programme the bicycles are simply released into a city or given area for use by anyone. In some cases, such as a university campus, the bicycles are only designated for use within certain boundaries. Users are expected to leave the bike unlocked in a public area once they reach their destination. Because the bike is not required to be returned to a centralised station, ready availability of such bicycles is rare, and since unlocked bikes may be taken by another user at any time, the original rider is forced to find alternative transport for the return trip. Bicycle sharing programs without locks, user identification, and security deposits have also historically suffered large loss rates from theft and vandalism.
- A small cash deposit releases the bike from a locked terminal and can only be retrieved by returning it to another. Since the deposit (usually one or more coins) is a fraction of the bike's cost, this does little to deter theft. Other bike sharing programmes have implemented rules requiring the user to provide a valid credit card, along with substantial security deposits for bicycles and mandatory security locks.
- In this version of the system, bicycles are kept either at volunteer-run hubs or at self-service terminals throughout the city. Individuals registered with the program identify themselves with their membership card (or by a smart card, via cell phone, or other methods) at any of the hubs to check out a bicycle for a short period of time, usually three hours or less. In many schemes the first half-hour is free. The individual is responsible for any damage or loss until the bike is returned to another hub and checked in.
- Many of the membership-based systems are operated through public-private partnerships. Several European cities, including the French cities of Lyon and Paris as well as London, Barcelona, Stockholm and Oslo, have signed contracts with private advertising agencies (JCDecaux in Brussels, Lyon, Paris, Seville, Dublin and Oslo; Clear Channel in Stockholm, Barcelona, Antwerp, Perpignan and Zaragoza) which supply the city with thousands of bicycles free of charge (or for a minor fee). In return, the agencies are allowed to advertise both on the bikes themselves and in other select locations in the city. Some other programmes are not linked to an advertising deal (for example Smoove) and are financed as a part of public transportation scheme. These programmes attempt to reduce losses from theft by requiring users to purchase subscriptions with a credit card or debit card (this option requiring a large, temporary deposit) and by equipping the bike with complex anti-theft and bike maintenance sensors. If the bike is not returned within the subscription period, or returned with significant damage, the bike sharing operator withdraws money from the user's credit card account.
- In China, there was a rapid increase in the size and use of private app driven "dockless" bike share networks in the 2010s. Dockless bike shares are designed whereby a user need not return the bike to a kiosk or station; rather, the next user can find it by GPS. Over 30 private companies have started operating in China. In particular, Mobike and Ofo have become the world's largest bike share operators with millions of bikes spread over 100 cities, mostly in China. They have also spread elsewhere, where they have been criticized as "rogue" systems instituted without respect for local authorities. In some jurisdictions, authorities have been conficascating “rogue” dockless bicycles that are improperly parked for potentially blocking foot traffic on sidewalks. 
Sometimes known as bike library systems, these bicycles may be lent free of charge, for a refundable deposit, or for a small fee. A bicycle is checked out to one person who will typically keep the bike for several months, and is encouraged or obliged to lock it between uses. A disadvantage of this system is a lower usage frequency, around three uses per day on average as compared to 10 to 15 uses per day typically experienced with other bike-sharing schemes.
Advantages of long-term use include rider familiarity with the bicycle and a mode of travel that is always nearby and instantly ready for use. The bicycle can be checked out like a library book, a liability waiver can be collected at check-out, and the bike can be returned any time. A Library Bike in a person's possession can be chosen for some trips instead of a car, thus lowering car usage. The long-term rental system generally results in fewer repair costs to the scheme administrator, as riders are incentivised to obtain minor maintenance in order to keep the bike in running order during the long rental period. Most of the long-term systems implemented to date are funded solely through charitable donations of second-hand bicycles, using unpaid volunteer labour to maintain, and administer the bicycle fleet. While reducing or eliminating the need for public funding, such a scheme imposes an outer limit to program expansion. The Arcata Bike Library, in California, has loaned over 4000 bicycles using this system.
Partnership with public transport sector
In a national-level programme that combines a typical rental system with several of the above system types, a passenger railway operator or infrastructure manager partners with a national cycling organisation and others to create a system closely connected with public transport. These programmes usually allow for a longer rental time of up to 24 or 48 hours, as well as tourists and round trips. In some German cities the national rail company offers a bike rental service called Call a Bike.
In Guangzhou, China, the privately operated Guangzhou Bus Rapid Transit system includes cycle lanes, and a public bicycle system.
In some cases, like Santander Cycles in London, the bicycle sharing system is owned by the public transport authority itself.
In other cases, like EnCicla in the city of Medellin (Colombia, South America), the Bicycle Sharing System is connected to other modes of transportation, such as the Metro.
Partnership with car park operators
Some car park operators such as Vinci Park in France lend bikes to their customers who park a car.
Partnership with car-share operations
City CarShare, a San Francisco-based non-profit, received a federal grant in 2012 to integrate electric bicycles within its existing car-sharing fleet. The program is set to launch before the end of 2012 with 45 bikes.
Many community-run bicycle programmes paint their bicycles in a strong solid colour, such as yellow or white. Painting the bicycles helps to advertise the programme, as well as deter theft (a painted-over bicycle frame is normally less desirable to a buyer). However, theft rates in many bike-sharing programmes remain high, as most shared-use bicycles have value only as basic transport, and may be resold to unsuspecting buyers after being cleaned and repainted. In response, some large-scale bike sharing programmes have designed their own bike using specialised frame designs and other parts to prevent disassembly and resale of stolen parts.
Another advantage of bike-sharing systems is that the smart-cards allow the bicycles to be returned to 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 (6,200 mi) a year (citing Lyon, France). Each bike has at least one of these rides with one unique user per day which indicates that in 2014 there were a minimum of at least 294 million unique bike share cyclists worldwide (806,200 bicycles x 365) although common sense indicates that this figure may be a very small estimate of the true number of bike share users.
It was found—in cities like Paris and Copenhagen—that to have a major impact there had to be a high density of available bikes. Copenhagen has 2500 bikes which cannot be used outside the 9 km2 (3.5 sq mi) 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's Vélib' programme operates with an increasing fee past the free first half-hour, users have a strong disincentive to take the bicycles out of the city centre. The distance between stations is only 300–400 metres (1,000–1,300 ft) in inner city areas.
In May 2011, there were around 375 bikesharing systems comprising 236,000 bicycles, and by April 2013 there were around 535 schemes around the world, made of an estimated fleet of 517,000 bicycles. As of June 2014[update], public bikesharing systems were operating in 50 countries on five continents, including 712 cities, operating approximately 806,200 bicycles at 37,500 stations.
In 2012 the Wuhan and Hangzhou Public Bicycle programs in China are the largest in the world, with around 90,000 and 60,000 bicycles respectively. China has seen a rise in private "dockless" bike shares with fleets that dwarf systems in size outside China. One such bike share alone, Mobike, operates 100,000 dockless bikes in each of the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Another operator, Bluegogo operates 35,000 bikes in Shenzhen, 25,000 bikes in Guangzhou, and 10,000 in Chengdu. Overall, there are more than 30 private bike share operators that have put over 3 million dockless bikes in various cities in China. By late 2017, the Ministry of Transport reported that China's dockless bike fleet has grown to 16 million bikes. The Vélib' in Paris, which comprises around 18,000 bicycles and 1,230 bicycle stations, is the largest outside China. Santander Cycles in London has about 8,000 bikes, and New York City's Citi Bike has about 6,000.
As of July 2013[update], the systems with the higher market penetration are Velib' in Paris with 1 bike per 97 inhabitants, Vélo'v in Lyon with 1 bike per 121 residents, and Hangzhou in China with 1 per 145. Barcelona's Bicing has 1 per 270, Montreal's Bixi has 1 per 300, London's Santander Cycles has 1 per 984, and New York City's Citi Bike has 1 per 8,336.
A study published in 2015 in the journal Transportation concludes that bike sharing systems can be grouped into behaviourally similar categories based upon their size. Cluster analysis shows that larger systems display greater behavioural heterogeneity amongst their stations, and smaller systems generally have stations which all behave similarly in terms of their daily utilisation patterns.
Bike-sharing systems by country
Dockless bike sharing was around in the UK during the early 20th century in a town called Barton-on-Humber. The companies Falcon, Coventry Eagle and Elswick Hopper has massive factories there and the companies also operated many sub businesses around town. Employees and their spouses could ride shared bikes home or anywhere they wanted as long as they left them at a relevant location.
Initially, a number of traditional (third generation) docked public bike systems operated by local municipal governments opened across China, with the largest ones being in Wuhan and Hangzhou. The first was introduced in Beijing in 2007. However, third generation bike sharing is not considered successful for the majority cities in China. Bike sharing in Beijing virtually stopped and it also has encountered difficulties in Shanghai and Wuhan.
In 2014, students from Peking University created a company called ofo and initialize the fourth generation bike sharing system in their campus. In 2017, a number of private competing app-based dockless bike-sharing programs have started to appear in numerous cities across China. The two largest dockless operators are Mobike and Ofo, others include Bluegogo and Xiaoming. Many Chinese cities have experienced massive growth in the number and use these dockless bikeshare programs, clogging sidewalks around major commercial hubs and subway stations with parked bikes. Given the speed of growth with these services, local governments did not have any regulations or planning to accommodate these systems. However the Chinese government encourages the development of dockless bikes to reduce urban pollution. Early studies in Beijing and Shanghai have linked the massive increase of dockless bike shares to the decrease in the number of private automobile trips that are less than five kilometres. In Guangzhou, the arrival of dockless bike shares had a positive impact in the growth of cycling modeshare. The Transport Commission of Shenzhen noted a 10% decrease in private car trips after the introduction of dockless bike shares.
In March 2017, Beijing saw over 200,000 dockless shared bikes from various companies entered service. Near the end of 2017 it has grown to 2.35 million for-hire bikes from 15 companies. The bikes are accessible via an app, and cost 1 RMB per hour plus a refundable damage deposit of 299 RMB. This is on top of the existing municipal run dock based bike network with 86,000 bikes. The Beijing municipal government has pledged to improve management and parking availability in response to the rapidly growing fleets of dockless bikes shares. Beijing cycling mode share increased from 5.5% to 11.6% after the arrival of these dockless bike systems.
The Guangzhou BRT has a bike share program integrated around its BRT stations. According to the local government, in 2017, Guangzhou has a fleet of over 700,000 bikes in various public and private bike share programs. On average 4 million trips each day were made using share bikes. The local government is reviewing traffic management strategies and road design standards to accommodate the increase in cycling traffic.
Starting from around the beginning of 2017, Haikou, the capital of Hainan province, experienced a massive increase in the number of dockless bikes by Ofo, Mobike, and Quick To which and cost 2 RMB per hour. The fourth is the Haikou Public Bike System which is a traditional municipal run docked system.
Before the arrival of private dockless systems, Hangzhou was the largest bike share system in the world until it was overtaken by Wuhan. In 2011, the system had 2,050 bike-share stations with a fleet of over 50,000 bikes and serving 240,000 trips per day. By 2015, it was expanded to over 84,000 bikes and 3,354 stations.
The Shanghai Bike Authority estimated that there are 280,000 shared bikes in Shanghai by March 2017, with a projected increase of 220,000 bikes by June. In March 2017, the government in Shanghai is requesting a temporary ban on the introduction of new private "dockless" shared bikes.  Shanghai has prepared new regulations that will restrict rider ages to between 12 and 70 and bikes in service for more than three years in a row must be permanently removed.Mobike alone operates 100,000 bikes in Shanghai and has claimed to have made Shanghai into the city with the world's largest bike share network.
Wenzhou has multiple bike share programs serving different districts of the city. The first one opened in 2012 serving Lucheng District with about 5,000 bikes and 180 stations. Next year, a bike share with 2,200 bikes and 66 stations opened in Longwan District. At the same time, a separate bike share program with 1,040 bikes and 32 stations opened in Ouhai District. The latter of the two is being expanded to 3,250 bikes and 109 stations. According to local government records, more than 20,000 dockless bikes from various private bike share companies have entered service in Wenzhou recently.
In 1965, the group Provo painted a few bicycles white and left them in downtown Amsterdam to be freely used. The bicycles were impounded by authorities, as a city ordinance forbade leaving unlocked bikes in public places.
In 1974 the French city of La Rochelle launched a free bike-sharing programme, Vélos Jaunes (Yellow Bikes), featuring unisex bicycles which were free to take and use. In terms of public usage and acceptance, it is regarded today as one of the first truly successful bike-sharing programmes. The programme continues today, albeit in modified form (rental charges apply after the first two hours, and personal identification is required for all bike rentals).
In 1993, a Green Bike Scheme bike sharing programme was initiated in Cambridge, United Kingdom, using a fleet of some 300 bicycles. The overwhelming majority of the fleet were stolen or missing within a year of the programme's introduction, and the Green Bike Scheme was abandoned.
In an attempt to overcome losses from theft, the next innovation adopted by bike sharing programmes was the use of so-called 'smart technology'. One of the first 'smart bike' programmes was the Grippa™ bike storage rack system used in Portsmouth's Bikeabout scheme. The Bikeabout scheme was launched in October 1995 by the University of Portsmouth, UK as part of its Green Transport Plan in an effort to cut car travel by staff and students between campus sites. Funded in part by the EU's ENTRANCE programme, the Bikeabout scheme was a "smart card" fully automated system. For a small fee, users were issued 'smart cards' with magnetic stripes to be swiped through an electronic card reader at a covered 'bike store' kiosk, unlocking the bike from its storage rack.CCTV camera surveillance was installed at all bike stations in an effort to limit vandalism. Upon arriving at the destination station, the smart card was used to open a cycle rack and record the bike's safe return. A charge was automatically registered on the user's card if the bike was returned with damage or if the time exceeded the three-hour maximum. Implemented with an original budget of approximately £200,000, the Portsmouth Bikeabout scheme was never very successful in terms of rider usage,[a] in part due to the limited number of bike kiosks and hours of operation. Seasonal weather restrictions and concerns over unjustified charges for bike damage also imposed barriers to usage. The Bikeabout program was discontinued by the University in 1998 in favour of expanded minibus service; the total costs of the Bikeabout programme were never disclosed.
Following the previous bike-sharing systems, the first next generation bike-sharing system, was introduced in 1991 in Farsø. Even though it was a small-scale scheme, it paved the way for the Copenhagen's ByCyklen programme, which was introduced in 1995 and was the first large-scale urban bike-sharing programme to feature specially designed bicycles with parts which could not be used on other bikes. To obtain a bicycle, riders paid a refundable deposit at one of 110 special locking bike stands, and the riders then had unlimited use of the bike within a specified 'city bike zone'. The fine for not returning a bicycle or leaving the bike-sharing zone exceeded US$150, and was strictly enforced by the police. Originally, the programme's founders hoped to completely finance the programme by selling advertising space on the bicycles, which was placed on the bike's frame and its solid disc-type wheels. This funding source quickly proved to be insufficient, and the city of Copenhagen took over the administration of the programme, funding most of the programme costs through appropriations from city revenues along with contributions from corporate donors. Since the City Bikes programme was free to the user, there is no return on the capital invested by the municipality, and a considerable amount of public funds was constantly used to keep the system in service, to enforce regulations, and to replace missing bikes. In 2013 a new version was expected to be introduced but the municipality of Copenhagen temporarily withdrew its support and there were no free bicycles for most of 2013. Copenhagen municipality changed its mind and a new version was introduced in late 2013.
In September 1997, another Grippa™ rack-based public share system was established as a pilot project in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, for the use of commuters, but was terminated the following year due to poorly functioning electronic bike racks.
Mumbai operates two schemes, and the Ministry of Urban Development is preparing to launch a 10-city public bike scheme as part of its "Mission for Sustainable Habitat".
MyByk cycle sharing program in Ahmedabad started with eight stations within the city in 2013. Subscribers can keep bicycles as long as required without having to return them to the stations.
Mysore is the first Indian city to initiate cycle sharing in 2009 with 28 locations as of 2009 and 52 planned locations.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) launched the first software based ‘Public Bicycle Sharing scheme (PBS)’ as per which commuters can rent cycles from a residential area and travel to the nearest Metro station and then again rent a cycle from a departing Metro station to the nearby localities.
One of the bicycle renting system has been initiated by PedalSaddle in Pune providing cycles on rent for cost cheaper than public transportation. Pune has India's first and biggest bicycle mall ever with a total investment of Rs 5 crore. In January 2018, One of China’s leading bicycle-sharing companies Ofo launched its dockless bicycle-sharing services in Pune. In 2017, ENPRO Industries, Pune took the initiative of promoting cycle to work.
The trend is catching on in some other cities including Rajkot,Bhubaneswar. and Vadodara (Baroda)
Canada's largest bike share system is the BIXI Montréal system. The system was developed by PBSC Urban Solutions. Started in May 2009, it has expanded to over 5000 bicycles at 450 stations. The Bixi system was implemented in June 2009 in Ottawa/Gatineau as Capital Bixi, and in May 2011 in Toronto, Ontario as Bixi Toronto.
From 2001 to 2006, BikeShare, operated by the Community Bicycle Network (CBN) in Toronto, was for a time the most popular community bicycle sharing program in North America. BikeShare was intended to overcome some of the theft issues by requiring yearly memberships to sign out any of the 150 refurbished yellow bikes locked up at 16 hubs throughout central Toronto. At its height, over 400 members could sign out a bike from any hub for up to three days. The hubs were located at stores, cafes and community centres where the staff would volunteer their time to sign bikes out and in. Despite steadily increasing administrative, implementation, and maintenance costs, CBN could only charge users around 20 percent of actual costs, as users were unlikely to spend more than $50 per year for a membership. Without sufficient funds in the form of private and government grants, CBN was forced to discontinue BikeShare in 2006.
From 2005 to 2008, a largely unregulated bike sharing program was operated by the Peoples' Pedal organisation in Edmonton, Alberta. The program suffered from high theft and vandalism rates, with 95% of the bikes that had been placed into service stolen or missing by 2008.
In 2016, Vancouver has installed a bike sharing system, Mobi (bike share), operated by CycleHop Corp. (Smoove system), starting at 1000 bikes in June 2016, 1500 at the end of the summer, 2500 in 2017.
Cartago east of San José, Costa Rica started a bikeshare program.
EcoBici is one of the world's largest programs, with 452 stations covering a 35-square-kilometre (14 sq mi) area.
One of the first community bicycle projects in the United States was started in Portland, Oregon in 1994 by civic and environmental activists Tom O'Keefe, Joe Keating and Steve Gunther. It took the approach of simply releasing a number of bicycles to the streets for unrestricted use. While Portland's Yellow Bike Project was successful in terms of publicity, it proved unsustainable due to theft and vandalism of the bicycles. The Yellow Bike Project was eventually terminated, and replaced with the Create A Commuter (CAC) program, which provides free secondhand bicycles to certain preselected low-income and disadvantaged people who need a bicycle to get to work or attend job training courses, and the 2016 Biketown system.
In 1996, a pilot bicycle share project known as the Orange Bike Project was organised in Tucson, Arizona by Bootstraps to Share, a homeless advocacy organisation inspired by the Bikes Not Bombs movement. Using funds from a taxpayer-funded government grant to obtain, recondition, and maintain 30 bicycles, project organisers announced plans to station the bicycles in downtown Tucson and areas adjacent to the University of Arizona. The publicly shared bicycles, painted bright orange by Earl Scheib to identify them, were primarily intended for use by the homeless or those without means of affordable transportation. The initial 30 bicycles placed into service for the Orange Bike Project were all stolen within a few weeks. A total of 80 bicycles were eventually used in the Orange Bike Project, all of which were either stolen or vandalised beyond repair. In one case, an Orange Bike Project bicycle was thrown in front of a freight train, in others, bikes were found with major frame damage consistent with deliberate vandalism. The program was terminated after only five months of operation.
In 1996, Madison, Wisconsin, instituted its Red Bikes Project, a public bike sharing program. These red-painted bicycles were available for the use of the general public, primarily in the student areas of State Street between the University of Wisconsin campus and the Wisconsin State Capitol. Initially, the only rule regarding the use of a Red Bikes Project bicycle was that it was required to remain outside and unlocked, and thus available for any passerby. After a surge in bicycle thefts and vandalism, the program was modified to require a valid credit card and $80 in security deposits for both the bicycle and the now-mandatory bicycle lock. The program is now only available seasonally, from spring (when all snow has melted) to 30 November.
In 2007, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Director of Bicycle Programs, Nicole Freedman, decided to bring bike sharing to the Boston area. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the regional planning agency for the metro-Boston region of 101 cities and towns, joined the effort. Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville also participated. In 2011, the metropolitan area of Boston launched its 60-station, 600-bike Hubway system, the contract to operate was awarded to Alta Bicycle Share and the equipment provider was PBSC Urban Solutions. Bicycle-sharing was an immediate success, recording 100,000 station-to-station rides in its first two and a half months. After recording 140,000 trips in four months, Boston's European-style bicycle-sharing system expanded outside city limits, planting stations across Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline. Hubway has over 100 stations throughout the Greater Boston area.
In 2007, Bikes Belong, an advocacy group financed by major bicycle manufacturers, worked with city officials, local advocates, and the healthcare firm Humana to bring bikesharing to the Republican and Democratic 2008 conventions. Called "Freewheelin!" the program offered 1,000 bicycles at 12 stations throughout the downtowns of the host cities, Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul
Politicians, lobbyists, and tourists alike can ride bicycles along a specially marked lane between the White House and the U.S. Capitol, part of the 115 miles of bicycle lanes and paths that now crisscross Washington, D.C. In Copenhagen, commuters can ride to work following a “green wave” of signal lights timed for bikers. Residents in China’s “happiest city,” Hangzhou, can move easily from public transit onto physically separated bike tracks that have been carved out of the vast majority of roadways. And on any given Sunday in Mexico City, some 15,000 cyclists join together on a circuit of major thoroughfares closed to motorized traffic. What is even more exciting is that in each of these locations, people can jump right into cycling without even owning a bicycle. Welcome to the era of the bikeshare.
Cyclists have long entreated drivers to “share the road.” Now what is being shared is not only the road but the bicycle itself. Forward-thinking cities are turning back to the humble bicycle as a way to enhance mobility, alleviate automotive congestion, reduce air pollution, boost health, support local businesses, and attract more young people. Bike-sharing systems — distributed networks of public bicycles used for short trips — that integrate into robust transit networks are being embraced by a growing number of people in the urbanizing world who are starting to view car ownership as more of a hassle than a rite of passage.
Today more than 500 cities in 49 countries host advanced bike-sharing programs, with a combined fleet of over 500,000 bicycles. Urban transport adviser Peter Midgley notes that “bike sharing has experienced the fastest growth of any mode of transport in the history of the planet.” It certainly has come a long way since 1965, when 50 bicycles were painted white and scattered around Amsterdam for anyone to pick up and use free of charge. Unfortunately, many of those bikes quickly disappeared or were damaged. In the 1990s, several Danish cities began more formal systems, with designated racks and coin deposits to check out bicycles. Copenhagen’s famed Bycyklen (“City Bike”) program, which has been an inspiration to many cities, finally closed at the end of 2012 after operating for 17 years with more than 1,000 bicycles. It is set to be replaced by a modern system in 2013, which could help Copenhagen meet its goal of increasing the share of commuting trips on bike from an already impressive 36 percent to 50 percent.
Modern bike-sharing systems have greatly reduced the theft and vandalism that hindered earlier programs by using easily identified specialty bicycles with unique parts that would have little value to a thief, by monitoring the cycles’ locations with radio frequency or GPS, and by requiring credit card payment or smart-card-based membership in order to check out bikes. In most systems, after paying a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual membership fee, riders can pick up a bicycle locked to a well-marked bike rack or electronic docking station for a short ride (typically an hour or less) at no additional cost and return it to any station within the system. Riding longer than the program’s specified amount of time generally incurs additional fees to maximize the number of bikes available.
Although the Netherlands and Denmark had far more pervasive cycling cultures, it was France that ushered the world into the third generation of bike sharing in 1998, when advertising company Clear Channel began the world’s first public computerized program with 200 bikes in the city of Rennes. The country moved into the big leagues in 2005 when Lyon, France’s third largest city, opened its Vélo’v program with 1,500 bikes at some 100 automated self-service docking stations. Its success — an apparent 44 percent increase in bicycle ridership in the first year — paved the way for large-scale bike sharing’s early shining star: the Vélib’ in Paris.
Vélib’ was launched in 2007 with 10,000 bicycles at 750 stations, and it quickly doubled in size. By the end of 2012, Vélib’, which is funded in a 10-year contract with advertising firm JCDecaux in exchange for street-side ad space, could claim more than 224,000 annual members and had surpassed 130 million trips. Since the system’s launch, the number of cyclists on the streets has risen 41 percent, with more than one out of every three bicycles on Paris streets being a shared bike. With bikes accounting for just 3 percent of traffic, though, there is still room for growth, and that is the plan. Bike sharing is part of a broader initiative to reduce automotive traffic and pollution in Paris, which includes closing prominent streets to cars on weekends, reducing speed limits, marking dedicated bus lanes to help move people en masse more efficiently, and extending the bike-lanes network to 430 miles (700 kilometers) by 2014 — all championed by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who has said that “automobiles no longer have a place in the big cities of our times.”
Meanwhile, programs were popping up throughout Italy and Spain like mushrooms after a rainfall. According to figures maintained by Peter Midgley, Italy had 47 bike-sharing programs in 2007, Spain had 36, and France had 18. Many were smaller scale, with tens of bikes rather than thousands. But a few stand out. Spain’s signature program in Barcelona became so popular soon after its launch in 2007 — getting many new riders to try bike commuting for the first time — that by 2008 it had quadrupled its fleet to 6,000 bikes and planned extensions to the surrounding communities. Seville also began bike sharing in 2007 as part of a rapid transformation to make the central city more accommodating to people, not just cars. In less than five years, cycling leapt from close to nothing to cover 6 percent of trips. As of late 2012, Spain leads the world with 132 separate bikeshare programs. Italy has 104, and France, 37. With a wave of new openings in 2009 and 2010, Germany joined the group of leading countries and now has 43 programs, including some with stationless bikes that can be located and accessed by mobile phone.
Other European countries have fewer programs, but some are very active. Dublin’s 550-bike system boasts a high membership and frequent rides on each bike. London’s Barclays Cycle Hire system launched in 2010 with 6,000 bikes and has grown beyond 8,000. As part of Mayor Boris Johnson’s “cycling revolution,” London is introducing several new cycle paths and “superhighways” in hopes of doubling the number of cycling trips within the next decade. In the Netherlands, a different breed of bike sharing run by the national railroad makes some 5,000 bikes available at more than 240 rail stations and other popular commuting spots. In Eastern Europe, which appears to be on the brink of a bike-sharing bonanza, Warsaw opened a program in August 2012 with 1,000 bikes that were ridden 130,000 times in that first month. The city now has some 2,500 shared bikes.
Bike-sharing enthusiasm has spread to Eastern Asia, Australia, and the Americas as well. Russell Meddin, who along with Paul DeMaio has chronicled and mapped the world’s bike-sharing programs, reports that even Dubai launched a program in February 2013.
In the Americas, where the car has long been king, the first big third-generation bike-sharing program opened in Montreal in 2009. It now has 5,120 bicycles and over 400 stations, facilitating use of the city’s robust network of bike lanes and paths. Toronto plans to expand its 1,000-bike scheme, and Vancouver and Calgary, along with several other Canadian cities, are expecting to start programs in the next couple of years.
When Mexico City launched its Ecobici program with some 1,000 bikes in 2010, it quickly reached its limit of 30,000 annual members and started a waiting list of eager would-be cyclists. The program has since quadrupled in size and remains the largest of Latin America’s dozen or so programs. Most of these are in Brazil; in fact, São Paulo even hosts multiple bike-sharing ventures. In Argentina, Buenos Aires opened a pilot program in 2010 and currently has 1,200 shared bikes, allowing more two-wheelers to brave the traffic, even crossing what is known as the world’s widest street. Santiago, Chile, currently has a program operating with 180 bikes at 18 manned stations in one city neighborhood, but later this year plans to roll out a larger automated system that could grow to 3,000 bikes at 300 stations within four years.
Throughout the United States bike-sharing programs are springing up at a fast clip; in fact it is hard to find a sizable U.S. city that is not at least exploring the bike-sharing option. As of April 2013, there were 26 active modern public programs in the United States, a number poised to double within the next year or two.
The largest U.S. program in early 2013 was Capital Bikeshare, with more than 1,800 bicycles spread across 200 stations in Washington, D.C., and neighboring communities. Nice Ride Minnesota, which covers the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, was second, with 1,550 bikes at 170 stations. The Boston metropolitan area is home to 1,100 shared bikes. Miami Beach is planning to add 500 bikes to its current fleet of 1,000 as it extends into Miami this year. And Denver, which is looking to grow from near 500 to 700 bikes in 2013, is one of more than 15 public systems in the B-cycle family that give members access to bikes when they travel to different cities, including Madison, Wis.; Fort Worth, Texas; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; San Antonio; Charlotte, N.C.; and Kansas City, Mo.
Several of the new players coming online in 2013 will dwarf the existing American field. New York’s highly anticipated Citi Bike program is poised to roll out 5,500 bicycles at 293 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn in May, with the ultimate goal of reaching 10,000 bikes. Chicago plans to start in June, ramping up to 4,000 bikes at 400 stations in 2014. Southern California will be rolling into bike sharing in a big way with programs opening in Los Angeles (4,000 cycles), Long Beach (2,500), and San Diego (1,800). In northern California, a pilot project of up to 1,000 bikes in San Francisco and Bay Area cities south along the rail line hopes to begin what could ultimately be a 10,000-bike program.
Impressive as these additions are, they are hard-pressed to hold a candle to some of Asia’s massive developments. According to Susan Shaheen and colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley, Asia got into the game in 1999 with a program in Singapore that lasted until 2007. The city now has two bike-sharing systems: one conventional and one run by a car-sharing company offering electric bikes. South Korea rolled out six programs between 2008 and 2010, including one in Changwon that now has 4,600 bikes and one in Goyang with 3,000. Japan, where commuters have a long history of using bikes to get to train stations (witness the 2.1 million bicycle parking spaces in the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area), has nine bike-sharing programs that began between 2009 and 2012. Taiwan, a high-grossing bicycle exporter, has two bike-sharing programs as well. But it is the “bicycle kingdom” of China that is showing the world how big bike sharing can get.
In early 2013, China was home to 79 bike-sharing programs, with a whopping combined fleet of some 358,000 bicycles. According to a paper prepared in late 2012 for the Transportation Research Board’s 92nd annual meeting by Yang Tang and colleagues at Tongji University, expansions and new projects could soon balloon China’s public bike fleet to just under 1 million cycles.
The world’s largest bike-sharing program is in Wuhan, China’s sixth largest city, with 9 million people and 90,000 shared bikes. Wuhan recently claimed the No. 1 spot from Hangzhou, which has 69,750 bikes in its bikeshare scheme. Hangzhou launched mainland China’s first computerized bikeshare system in 2008, integrating stations with bus and subway networks, allowing the same transit card to be used across all modes and granting extra free bike-riding time with a bus transfer. By 2020, Hangzhou’s system could grow to 175,000 bikes.
The growth in bike sharing and bike infrastructure may help buck the pervasive motorization that has turned rush-hour roadways in China’s fast-growing cities into virtual parking lots. In Zhuzhou, after a program of 20,000 bikes opened in 2011, the share of trips made by bicycle — which had slipped to a meager (by Chinese standards) 5 percent — reportedly jumped to 10 percent. An estimated 70 percent of the bike trips were made on shared cycles. In Hangzhou, the cycling share dropped from 43 percent in 2000 to 34 percent in 2007, but then it rebounded to 37 percent by 2009 after bike sharing was introduced. In Beijing in the 1980s, more than half of all trips were made by bicycle; by 2007 this had fallen to 23 percent. Yet as more cars and trucks filled Beijing’s roads, the average car speed fell to less than 8 miles per hour in 2003, down from 28 in 1994. It is too early to gauge the impact of Beijing’s municipal bike-share program, which opened in 2012 with 2,000 cycles and plans to jump to 50,000 by 2015.
Bike-sharing cities are finding that promoting the bicycle as a transport option can lead to more mobility and safer streets for all. Bike-sharing programs are well positioned to hook people up with a bus or metro system, accommodating the last mile or so between home or work and mass transit. Having bikes ready to go on the streets encourages more people to try out biking, and once they experience its convenience, speed, and lower cost, they then advocate for further improvements to cycling infrastructure — like bike lanes, paths, and parking — making it even easier for more riders to join in. This “virtuous cycle” means that it is increasingly likely that bike sharing could soon show up in a city near you.