There are actually so many reasons that we are not even sure where to start. If you are a Millennial or Gen Zer living in the (big) city, you are surely familiar with bike-sharing systems. If not, we’ll help out in the rows below. Biking is an affordable, convenient, healthier alternative to other forms of public transport, and it has become an essential part of the new way of life. One that is centered on both efficiency and sustainability.
1. A brief history of bike-sharing. A bike-sharing 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, left them around the city unlocked for anyone to use in order to get around. The program failed, as local regulations required that all bikes left in the street to be locked. The police removed the “freed” white bikes.
Three decades later, in Copehangen (currently considered the most bike-friendly 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 bike-sharing 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 San Francisco and, of course, Amsterdam, the biker-dominated city in the Netherlands.
2. How does bike-sharing work in 2020? Bike-sharing systems are offered through private companies such as Lime, Mobike, JUMP Bikes (hi there, Uber) or Lyft. The offering really depends on where you are in the world. Municipalities (New York City, Barcelona etc.) and universities (University of Worcester in the U.K., University of Colorado etc.) also offer bike-sharing systems. Often, these are the result of public-private partnerships. Depending on where you’re located, you’ll likely find the following options:
- Docked (automated docking stations) – This type of system stores bicycles in “docks” or designated locked bike racks that release by computer control. To unlock the bike, the user needs to enter payment information, usually through an app, or just swipe a card. Once the ride is over, the bike needs to be parked in any docking station within the same system.
- Dockless – With a dockless bike-sharing system, the locking mechanism is found on the bike itself, allowing the user to locate and unlock a bike by using the smartphone. At the end of the trip, the rider can simply leave it at the destination.
3. Why to use bike-sharing in 2020? Some of the reasons bike sharing is a smart and cool transportation option:
- It’s low-cost: Usually, biking is more affordable than other local transportation options. For example, in San Francisco, largest bike-share operator Bay Wheels offers classic bikes that are free for up to 45 minutes for members and $2 to unlock for non-members. For e-bikes, members pay $0.15/minute and non-members pay $0.20/minute. Pretty convenient, right?
- It’s healthy: Biking is a simple way to add exercise to your day and get your body moving. In the end, it’s not just about physical health, but also a better state of mind. Researchers found that cycling offers amazing neurological benefits by stimulating the formation of new brain cells and can even triple the production of neurons. Also, if you’re too lazy to pedal, you always have the option of choosing an electric bike. Thank God it’s 2020, right?
- It’s eco-friendly: Pedaling cuts down on poor air quality in densely populated areas. The climate crisis is a significant topic to focus on now. People have been paying more attention to their carbon footprint, the impact of their everyday life on the well-being of our planet. This has led to a change in their eating and shopping habits, as well as the way they get around. Biking fits perfectly in this more thoughtful way of life. Not to mention it saves you the trouble of looking/paying for a parking space for your car and its maintenance costs are significantly lower. Oh, and you can always buy a used bike that is still very much usable rather than buy a new one and score an extra eco-friendliness point.
- It’s growing: Let’s talk about one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. San Francisco makes the top five on most rankings when it comes to urban biking. Bay Wheels, also known by its former name—Go Bike, is the oldest and largest bike-share operator in the city, with 2,600 vehicles including a few hundred electric bikes. At the end of last year, Lyft, who owns Bay Wheels, announced it will increase its e-bike fleet by 4,000 in the next few months. The company will also grow its station network and continue funding thousands of additional public-use bike racks. Uber, its most significant competitor in San Francisco, also operators 500 JUMP e-bikes in the city.
City life in 2020 is busier and more suffocating than a decade ago. We need to adapt and adopt more efficient and sustainable mobility solutions as soon as these are available. Often times, these simplify and improve our lives for the short- and long-term. Adhering and using a bike-sharing system is a simple way to do this. Also, the city looks so much better if you look at it while riding a bike. You will notice a lot of stuff you’ve missed while sitting in a car so maybe it’s time for this new perspective.