Bikes Bikes Bike sharing is popular worldwide. (Photo: Hans Engbers / Shutterstock)

Bike-sharing trend shifts into high gear

Cities around the world rent bicycles to tourists and locals on a short-term basis.

From Boston to Buenos Aires, from Taipei to Tel Aviv, bike-sharing programs help tourists and locals get around town. Individuals can rent bikes on a short-term basis and drop them off at kiosks located around the city. In some locations, cyclists may pay an annual fee for bike sharing and receive a free 30-minute period for every trip they make. If the trek is longer, they could pay an increasing usage fee – a financial incentive to return the bike when they’re done.

“Bike sharing saves you time and money. It’s a wonderful way to get exercise as well as experience the city above ground,” said Paul DeMaio, principal with MetroBike LLC in Washington, D.C.

In New York, customers 16 and older can purchase an annual membership for $95 with unlimited 45-minute trips. For those who want shorter commitments, 24-hour or seven-day passes are available. All options provide access to more than 6,000 bikes at 330 Citi Bike stations for an unlimited number of short trips. A small fee buys extra time to hop from point to point visiting museums, parks, cafes and shops.

Lyon, France, launched its bike-sharing program in 2005 with Velo’v. The modern ad-supported system uses smart cards, GPS tracking and high-tech kiosks. The first 30 minutes are free for everyone. After, subscribers pay by half-hour increments. Bikes are fitted with anti-theft devices.

Paris, which evokes dreamy images of bikes rolling through parks with the Eiffel Tower looming in the background, launched its sharing program called Velib’ on Bastille Day weekend in 2007. With 20,000 bikes, Velib’ provides an average of 50 stations per square mile.

Tel Aviv rolled out Israel's first bike share, Tel-O-Fun, in 2011. The fleet of approximately 2,000 green bicycles makes it easy to explore old Jaffa alleyways, leafy Rothschild Boulevard or the famous beach boardwalk – now with bike lanes.

Tourists and locals alike can pick up and drop off a bike at stations all over the city any time of day or night, with no advance notification. Daily, weekly and annual subscriptions are available.

Bikes not only offer a neat way to sightsee, but also have many more advantages. For instance, they are environmentally friendly and boost riders’ health.

“Obesity is a health epidemic internationally," said DeMaio. "Providing a way for people to add exercise to their daily routine is very important. But it has to be enjoyable. In the end, bicycling is fun. It just sells itself.”

A bike-sharing advocate for nearly two decades, DeMaio launched and co-authors The Bike-sharing World Map, providing updates on programs across the globe. There are now about 600 bike-sharing services in operation – and not just in North America and Europe.

“Bike sharing has really taken off in China," said DeMaio. "They have the largest bike-sharing services in the world.”

Hangzhou, China, tops the list of places with the best programs on the planet, according to USA Today. With nearly 70,000 red bikes and 3,000 stations, the city of 8.7 million near Shanghai charges a deposit of about $33 for a card granting access to subway, bus, ferry, taxi and bike-share transportation. The first hour’s ride is free, and each additional hour costs about 15 cents. And Wuhan, China – with almost twice the number of cycles as all of France, according to the Earth Policy Institute – offers free bike sharing.

We are in the third generation of modern bike sharing, according to DeMaio. The first began in 1965 with white bikes left on the streets for people to use in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, many of those bikes were stolen or thrown in canals.

The second generation popped up in 1995, with a coin-operated system in Copenhagen that was more formalized. However, thefts still occurred because users didn’t have to share personal information and therefore remained anonymous.

This paved the way for a new generation of bike sharing with improved customer tracking. DeMaio traces the first automated third-generation bike sharing system to 1997. Customers needed a credit card to use service, and if they didn’t return a bike, they would be charged for it. As the tracking technology progresses, expect the bike-sharing phenomenon to continue booming across the world.


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