What Is A Bikesharing System?

by Alexandra Pacurar

With climate change at the forefront of political discourse and polluted Asian cities causing a myriad of health concerns, it’s not surprising that many conscious commuters are looking for more healthful ways to get to work. Bikes have quickly moved from a recreational activity to an essential means of transportation, particularly in crowded urban environments like Singapore. Bikesharing systems are an affordable, convenient, and healthier alternative to other forms of public transport, and in 2019, they have become an essential part of the new mobile way of life.

Bikesharing systems have immediate appeal to folks that are concerned with both efficiency and sustainability. Bikesharing systems provide on-demand access to a transportation option that just about anyone can master. You know what they say about never forgetting how to ride a bike. They also make a lot of sense as a last-mile option if your normal commute involves taking a bus or train most of the way.

A brief history of bikesharing

A bikesharing system provides bicycles for shared use to individuals on a temporary basis, typically for a fee. The first such program—named The White Bicycle Plan—originated in Europe in the 1960s and was actually free. In 1965, a group of activists in Amsterdam wanted to free the city of traffic and pollution. So, they painted dozens of bikes white and left them around the city unlocked for anyone to use in order to get around. The program failed, as local regulations required all bikes left in the street to be locked. The police removed the “freed” white bikes.

Three decades later, in Copenhagen (currently considered the most bikefriendly city on the planet, according to research by Wired), people could share bicycles via a coin-operated system. However, the bikes were not easy to ride and the municipality could not track them, which made them attractive for thieves and vandals. 

One year later, a small bikesharing system, accessible only to students of the Portsmouth University in England found a groundbreaking solution. Users were required to swipe a magnetic-stripe card in order to unlock and use a bike, which enabled the operators of the system to track them. This can be considered the first major milestone of bike-sharing systems as we know them today. In 2013, Copenhagen also upgraded its pioneering program with GPS and tourist information.

Today, you can find a bike sharing system in most major cities, from Singapore to Denver and, of course, Amsterdam, the biker-dominated city in the Netherlands.