Bicycle Haven Europe

Europe is poised to become a bicycle paradise thanks to the sharing-based bike rental service that started to spread at the start of the 2000’s.

Bicycles have recently become the vehicle of choice in Paris, Barcelona, Berlin and a slew of other large or growing cities and are gradually being adopted by municipal governments for the solution they offer to problems like traffic congestion and environmental pollution. Old attitudes have been abandoned in favor of the humble bicycle, which not only offers users a practical and economical means of transport but also fulfills their daily need for exercise.

Rental bicycles are poised to become a major player among the traditional modes of public transportation in the near future. The nature and extent of the rental bike system naturally varies from city to city, largely dependent on the attitude and targets of the local authorities.

The bicycle renting/sharing system offers many advantages, one of the most important of which for urban life is that it provides an alternative to motor vehicles and therefore contributes to reducing traffic while at the same time substantially lowering air and noise pollution. Yet another reason people prefer to use bicycles is that they can be rented for the day and used in one direction. Not only that, the first half hour is usually free. The popularity of rental stations near to other modes of mass transport is a sign that bicycle renters are using bikes in tandem with other systems of transportation. The more bike stops there are, the easier it is for users to get around the city.

The demand for a bike rental system has been around for about 40 years, but it was only in 2007 that it finally began to take off in many European cities when the number and usage rate of rental bikes doubled.

While interest in a bike rental system remains in the mid-range in countries like Holland, Norway, Sweden and Germany where bicycle use is already widespread and the rate of bicycle ownership high, other countries such as France, Spain and Italy with their lower rates of bike usage and ownership have adopted the system and incorporated it into their long-range transportation planning. 

Bike rentals require the employment of few personnel, offer a more economical solution in long-term mass transportation planning and are also considered by municipalities to enhance traffic safety insofar as they force motorists to pay more attention to pedestrians and cyclists.

Creating special bus and bike lanes to reduce traffic congestion in the city, the municipal government is conducting comprehensive studies to push the rental bike system in Paris, where being confined to a single lane and having to watch the traffic pass by has turned city driving into hell on earth for drivers of private cars. The upshot? It’s commonplace now to see people riding ‘Vélib’ (vélo libre or vélo liberté) bikes and vehicles redistributing the bikes to rental stations. 

The bike rental system that went into effect in July 2007 has already mushroomed to fantastic proportions according to a report published in November 2009, which mentions some 20,600 bicycles available for use at 1,451 rental stations. Bicycles are rented on average 75,000 times a day, and some 2.7 million people have rented bikes a total of 41 million times since the system was introduced. The city’s bicycle lanes are said to total 371 kilometers in length.

When it comes to bike rentals, China’s Hangzhou is leader of the pack with 50,000 rental bikes in the city. In Europe, Paris is out in front with its 13,500 ‘Vélib’s, followed in second place by Barcelona’s Bicing company with 6,000. Lyon meanwhile boasts its Vélo’v program with 4,000 bikes and Munich its Call a Bike with 2,000. With close to 37,000 bicycles country-wide, France is far ahead of its nearest rival in Europe as Spain and Italy trail some distance behind.

In Turkey, bike rentals were first introduced in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri in July 2010 with 300 bikes available. Known as KAYBİS, the city’s bicycle transport system was designed to work as an extension of the light rail network.