Community bike history

February 12, 2009


Provos in action in amsterdam

The first well documented community bike program implementation was in Amsterdam, Netherlands in the 1960’s. The program was conceived by Luud Schimmelpennink, a member of the anarchy group, “Provo”.

Provo conceived of several “white plans” including the White Bicycle Plan. The proposal called for closing off the center of the city to motorized traffic and in it’s place distribute 20,000 white bicycles free for anyone to use. The group and their plans received international exposure due to violent actions which were taken by the police against Provo. The exposure likely was responsible for sparking the interest of others who attempted to implement similar community bike programs around the world. 1*


Bycyklen Copenhagen

French port La Rochelle, France’s first – and, for many decades, only – city committed to environmentally progressive planning,  pioneered such experiments with its yellow bike rental program in 1974. Despite La Rochelle’s success (its project continues to operate to this day), no other cities followed suit.

A full two decades later, Copenhagen’s free bycyklen bike-loan program, begun in 1995, served as the true European catalyst, inspiring several imitators, including Helsinki (2000) and the Danish town Arhus (2005). Aveiro in Portugal launched a free bike-loan program in 2001 and the French city of Angers opened its VéloCité system in 2004. In Switzerland, where such efforts have been initiated and operated by independent, non-profit associations rather than municipalities, bike-sharing has taken a somewhat different form. The non-profit association Genève Roule has run a free-bike program since 1997, for example, and similar initiatives exist in other cities across the Confederation. Germany’s national railway has operated the Call-a-Bike rental service since 2001, now in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Cologne, Stuttgart, and Karlsruhe, and the Dutch national railway offers a similar rental service. In parallel to Deutsche Bähn’s service, a small firm called Nexbike is testing bike rental initiatives in several German cities. Across the Channel, Oybike has mounted a similar initiative in London.

But the real impetus for the recent spread of bike loan programs in Europe was more of a private sector scramble for advertising Euros. Two firms battle each other for the spoils of this lucrative European market: Clear Channel, the largest outdoor advertising corporation in the world, and its leading competitor, the French company JCDecaux (which prefers to call itself a provider of “urban furniture,” and is best known for the sleek, stylish, coin-operated, self-cleaning public toilet units it maintains on Paris’s streets). Locked in a perennial contest for municipal advertising contracts, these companies sought to sweeten their respective offers in recent years by bundling them with bike-sharing systems.

JCDecaux bity bike

JCDecaux city bike

Their aggressive commercial strategies thus spawned the proliferation across the old continent of systems with cutesy names and brightly painted bicycles. Rennes launched a free bike-share system under contract with Clear Channel in 1998; and when Vienna abandoned its Copenhagen-inspired initiative after it suffered widespread vandalism in only a few weeks of operation in 2000, the city awarded JCDecaux a concession for its Citybike bike-rental program. In Norway, Clear Channel concluded contracts for rental systems with four cities in 2001 and 2002 (Trondheim, Drammen, Bergen and Oslo), JCDecaux signed with Porsgrunn in 2003, and Sandnes has run its own since 2001. Amidst this rapid profusion, Lyon’s 2005 contract with JCDecaux for its Vélo’v program was a watershed. Its fleet of 2,000 bikes made it at that time the largest in the world, and attrac

ted unprecede  nted numbers of users (10 % of the city’s inhabitants are subscribed today). Lyon’s success caught city planners’ attention across Europe: the following year, JCDecaux installed the Cyclocity system in Brussels and Vél’Hello in Aix-en-Provence, Clear Channel set up Stockholm’s Citybike system, the Spanish city of Burgos put in place its own free BiciBur program, and in 2007 Orléans awarded a concession for Vélo+ to the French state railway SNCF’s subsidiary EFFIA.

The key to Vélib’s unexpected success, its unprecedented scale, also came about as something of an accident. When Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë decided to implement a system in Paris in the fall of 2006, he clearly had something like Lyon’s model in mind. His initial invitation for bids called for 6,000 bikes and 600 pick-up and drop-off points – had it been left at that, it would still have been the biggest in Europe, although on the same order of magnitude as Lyon’s network.

In the first round of bidding, Clear Channel beat out JCDecaux – but the French company, determined to keep a tight grip on its flagship concession on outdoor advertising in Paris, mobilized a battalion of lawyers to get the bid overturned in court. To be c


Clearchannel city bike

ertain that its American rival would not beat it out a second time, JCDecaux submitted a revised offer that far surpassed what the city had imagined: 20,600 bikes and a network of 1,450 stations so dense that no point within the city would be more than 300 meters away from the nearest station. Clear Channel had clearly lost and Parisians woke up to the world’s largest bike sharing network. The new system, the unlikely fruit of intense competition for advertising market share between Clear Channel and JCDecaux rather than any ecological good intentions, now made it possible for Parisians to pick up and drop off a bicycle anytime and anywhere in Paris. 2*

1* Jared Benedict | Automatic
Community Bike Program | May 5th 2002
2* Paul Cohen | Spacing Toronto | Nov. 5th 2008

Recent development

Paris’s bicycle rental scheme that has transformed travel in the city has run into problems just 18 months after its successful launch Over half the original fleet of 15,000 specially made bicycles have disappeared, presumed stolen.

They have been used 42 million times since their introduction but vandalism and theft are taking their toll. The company which runs the scheme, JCDecaux, says it can no longer afford to operate the city-wide network.

Championed by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, the bikes were part of an attempt to “green” the capital. Parisians took to them enthusiastically. But the bikes have suffered more than anticipated, company officials have said.

Hung from lamp posts, dumped in the River Seine, torched and broken into pieces, maintaining the network is proving expensive. Some have turned up in eastern Europe and Africa, according to press reports. Since the scheme’s launch, nearly all the original bicycles have been replaced at a cost of 400 euros ($519, £351) each.


Vandalized Vélib bike

The Velib bikes have also fallen victim to a craze known as “velib extreme”. Various videos have appeared on YouTube showing riders taking the bikes down the steps in Montmartre, into metro stations and being tested on BMX courses.

Remi Pheulpin, JCDecaux’s director general, says the current contract is unsustainable. “It’s simple. All the receipts go to the city. All the expenses are ours,” he said. The costs, he said, were “so high that a private business cannot handle it alone, espcially as it’s a problem of public order. If we want the velib set-up to keep going, we’ll have to change the business model,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

BBC News |BBC News online | Feb. 10th 2009


One Response to “Community bike history”

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