“Bike Sharing/Renting Programs”


DC Bike Share Bike

A friend of mice sent me this link to the New York Times about the Paris Velib bike renting program. It is not being called a failure or even a loss of funds [they are not providing those numbers], but loosing 80% of the bikes due to vandalism!

Pretty sad, but I am not surprised one bit. I tried to make a bike sharing program in Somerville in 1996. I was trying to do something like the yellow bike program like in Holland [my bikes were orange]. I compiled a bunch of bikes and donations. Had an auction to raise money to fix up the bikes. Myself and some volunteers spent many hours refurbishing the bikes and painting them. A story was written about the program in the Somerville Journal and it had generated a lot of excitement. When the bikes were ready [about 12 of them]I did not have a place to store the bikes and left them outside of Independent Fab [where I was working at the time]. I thought that if they were stolen that was ok, because I just wanted people to ride them.

The next day I came to work only to find that every single one of them had been destroyed. Frames bent, wheels mangled…toast. I spent the better part of the day taking off what parts were still useable, cramming them into my car to take them to the scrap yard, in multiple trips.

This was common with almost every other bike share program I have every heard of. Amsterdam, Austin, Portland OR and ME…The only one that worked was in Burlington VT and I think that is because it is a small town. Not sure if they still do there anymore?

The Bike Share programs like Velib and the Bixi system in Montreal, were to combat this problem, by having a non-valuable and non-usable parts type of bike. And with a rack system to keep them safe, as well as charging a fee to use the bikes. I have not looked into how these systems are working out in Montreal, but I would say that Paris is full of problems? Washington DC has a new system too and I will need to look into that. We are to have a Bixi system installed in Boston soon and I do not think it will work and I am [at this point] not really a fan of these systems. However I will say that anything that is bike related improvement is fine with me and I will take what I can get. I think the funds could be spent in other areas to improve bicycling for the public good. I mean that is the idea right? That these bike share [rental] systems are to convert the average citizen to choose bicycling over driving their cars. That these bikes provided at little cost to the user and positioned in convenient local will inspire people to use them.

I do not know what these systems cost, but it must be a lot! The Velib bikes were quoted to cost $3,500 for each bike! It is probably to late to stop the Boston Bixi program, but I think the money would be better spent in three areas.

One is that City of Boston could contract me set the city up with a bike factory, hiring inner city people [young and old] and providing bicycles for the citizens of Boston. Bikes that they would own [and take care of].

Two The bikes could be sold or provided on a sliding scale. Either given out, traded for labor, sold at cost etc… after people apply for them, providing a tax statement and proof of residence etc…

Three Investing in road improvements with on road seperated cycle paths, bikes lanes and intersection improvements along with good safe parking spots [lots of them]. No one is going to ride there bike if they do not feel safe.

A bike providing system sort of like Habitat for Humanity would be a good start. Ownership provides a much more rewarding experience. Now my system is geared more to the lower-income part of Boston and not the Chic and upwardly mobile, however it could be built to supply both. The City of Boston bike factory could make anything. It does not have to only make the basic transport bike… What would be more patriotic than buying  a hand-built bicycle from the city of Boston, at its full cost. Providing jobs for the people who feel left out, providing bicycles for the people who would other wise want to vandalize the system [because they were left out of the system].

I thought about making a proposal to send the city of Boston last year, but I have been too busy trying to stay in business and dealing with my own business issues. It takes a lot of time and effort to write a good proposal and I have never done anything like that before….but maybe? I mean otherwise all this money is being spent and leaving the state right? If they just made the bikes themselves and hired citizens of Boston…all of the funds would stay in the city and with its citzens.


About antbikemike

Bicycle frame builder
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22 Responses to “Bike Sharing/Renting Programs”

  1. cris says:

    mike, your proposal kind of sound like what Bikes Not Bombs is doing; except of course, most of BNB’s inventory is shipped overseas … though some bikes get recirculated into the city as part of used bike sales; but using the shop as an opportunity to teach skills to local youth and provide a civic resource for cheap bikes falls in their purview, too.

    Personally, I am a little ambivalent about a bike share. My first reaction to it was that it was a waste of resources that could be better invested in infrastructure, but I tried out the Bixi system in Montreal and came to appreciate being able to travel around a city without worry about carrying a lock or a pump or a light with charged-up batteries; and I think that’s part of where a publically funded bike share program wins over a communal factory — giving people bikes is just the tip of the iceberg. Getting those same folks to keep them in good order and use them day in, day out is a more difficult prospect. A bike share takes the maintenance responsibility away from the rider and just lets them use a bike when they want to; without worrying if they have space in their apartment to store it, or time in their schedule to bring it in for regular tuneups.

    Yes, I think a certain amount of vandalism is inescapable, but I think that the Bixi system has benefited from launching later than the Velib and can thus learn from its predecessor’s shortcomings. Supposedly, all of the Bixi bikes have a GPS unit to allow them to be tracked. While that may sound a little Big Brother-ish, it’ll probably help with cutting down on vandalism.

  2. I must confess that I too have misgivings about bike share programmes. When they launch the one in Boston, I will support it, but I am ambivalent not only about the success potential of such programmes, but also about the ethics of how they are managed.

    The whole point of cycling is to curb disposable culture and to improve the state of the environment. The biggest problem for me, is the paradox that so many resources are spent on the constant production of new bikes for these bike share programmes – which is not the best thing for the environment and is usually done overseas while a big corporate manufacturer pockets large sums of money for the contract. In Austria, where I live for parts of the year, their bike-share bikes are constantly being replaced not only due to vandalism, but also due to “improvements”. When they decided to transform the single speed bikes into 3-speeds, they actually scrapped all the “old” (1-2 year!) bikes and sourced all new ones from the contractor, with 3 speeds.

    I would like to see a bike share programme that financially benefitted the local community, rather than a large manufacturer of those bikes. As Mike describes, such a programme would contract someone local to produce the bikes, or collect and refurbish used bikes within the community, thereby also creating new jobs! But I don’t think this will ever happen: The players who are able to powerfully and influentially lobby for bike-share programmes are the ones connected to the manufacturers who stand to benefit from big contracts. Sad, but such is the reality. Bikes are just another cultural trend like any other.

    As for Vermont – I can believe it. When I worked in Hanover NH, I was shocked to learn that people just left their bikes unlocked, parked on the street or propped against walls. At least in 2003-2005 the bike theft rate was almost non-existent there, and the culture in Burlington VT is similar.

  3. Steven M. says:

    My reaction was pretty much the same a Cris’s, but I couldn’t have articulated it as well.

    I would just add that Mike’s item number 3, infrastructure improvements, is crucial. Ideally, we would change the road system so that the relative priorities of automobile and bicycle convenience are reversed (allowing for motorized emergency vehicles and handicapped access, of course). If we could do that (about which I’m not optimistic at all), the rest would follow. It might require a new generation of users, but it would happen.

    (Lovely: “Programme”? Maybe the mention of Montreal changed your spelling preferences, eh?)

  4. datillo says:

    Mike, here’s another Mike whose bike blog format is exactly like yours. No imitation, I assure you. I’ve just discovered ANTBIKEMIKE

    Despite the difficulties, Bike share schemes are spreading round the world at a furious pace, esp. in Europe. Most are working well

    Apparently Montreal has just had a great summer with it’s 5000 Bixis on the streets, dispensed from their solar powered docking stations. (Bixi means bike and taxi combined)

    Bixi is now selling its design to London, Boston, and Melbourne. But as I found when I went to a presentation on the Melbourne scheme, another huge problem looms, and it’s not vandalism.

    Australia is one of the few countries which gives adults no choice when it comes to wearing a helmet. This has not been much of an issue in recent years. Aussie riders have got used to their hard hats.

    But I found out that there’s no way of dispensing a helmet with a Bixi type bike and so, even though contracts have been signed for Melbourne and Brisbane. no one know how to solve this helmet problem .

    In the movie on my blog, Bike Share and Helmets Don’t Mix? you see Alison Cohen who works for the winning bidder, the US company ALTA, being very candid about what they face.

    No one has ever brought bike share to a city with compulsory helmets.

    I personally think would be tragic if Australia missed out since I see bike share as bringing a whole new population to utility cycling.

    Our bike culture at the moment is very racing oriented, very aggressive. A cyclist beat up a bus driver in Sydney recently. Only 15% of cyclists are women Bike share can help change that.

    Can we hope that the helmet law will be revisited, at least for this type of slow, safe, bike?

    The Movie is on my blog, And So To Bike


    Mike Rubbo

  5. Phil S says:

    My wife’s hometown in Italy has a bike-borrow program. It seems to be working as after three years since I first saw these racks and bikes, they’re still being used. Unlike the US, though:
    1. Cars are severely restricted inside the city; very limited parking, there are strict model-year cutoffs preventing all but low-emission cars inside the city, etc…
    2. Bikes are everywhere. People use them for transport. Spandex just isn’t seen in the city. People wear regular clothes, even suits and furs. Hard hats are rarely seen on cyclists within the city. There’s no perceived “wierdness” to riding to work or running errands like there is here.
    3. There aren’t a lot of dedicated bikeways, but the sheer balance of bikes to cars means the driver has no choice but to pay attention to the cyclist.
    4. It wasn’t that long ago that a lot of regular people just didn’t own cars (none of my wife’s grandparents had driver licenses, and her parents rarely use the car). The idea of driving a mile or so to the store just isn’t in the cultural vocabulary (for a lot of reasons, I’m sure).

    I’m working on a device for cyclists to carry which will turn cell phones instantly red-hot in drivers’ hands. I think that would make my commute a lot safer….(just kidding about the device, I can only dream…)

  6. ben says:

    Honestly, as someone who’s been riding in Boston for three years, I think a bike share is a purely terrifying ordeal. There is nearly no adequate bicycle infrastructure to make cycling as safe as it is in other cities. Even in Cambridge, the bike lanes are often blocked by parked/idling cars and these legal offenses go often unnoticed.

    In order for Boston to have a successful bike share problem a number of things have to happen: the creation of safe bike lanes (not just extra lines on the street), the aggressive redesign of our roads (perhaps altering narrower streets into one-way roads with two-way bike lanes) and an ultimately massive re-education of the general public’s awareness of bicycles as street-legal vehicles.

    Although I just may be cynical, there are prevailing attitudes of self-righteousness and over privilege in the city. It’s commonplace to favor personal wants/needs over appropriate public behavior (for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike).

    I hate to sound cynical, but I think the best use of cycling-related funding would be to improve infrastructure, support local cycling non-profits, and to create access to bicycles via other means… A government-subsidized non-profit LBS/factory is a great idea. Huffy 1-speed cruisers are USA made and cost $80. There’s no reason why we can’t make something like that (or better) in Boston.

  7. David says:

    Mike –

    I spent a month in Paris last summer. Based on what I saw, I think the New York Times article put an unnecessarily negative and sensationalized spin on the Velib program. I thought it was fantastic. At any time of day or night, wherever I looked, someone was riding by on a Velib. There are so many stations (one approx. every 300 yards), you can literally see one station from the next. The bikes in most of these were well maintained and in good shape. Also, they are part on an integrated mass-transit system, with residents purchasing a single pass that is good for the commuter trains, the metro, buses and Velib.

    There are thousands of people riding bicycles in the streets of Paris that would not be there without Velib. I don’t know if it’s making money, but I don’t think that was the point. I know it’s sometimes hard for us (Americans) to get our heads around this concept, but sometimes it’s important to do something just to make the world a better place and, from what I saw, the Velib was certainly doing this.

    My only complaint is that the stations only take credit cards with certain generation of RFID chip that is ubiquitous in European cards. For a while, American cards did not include this technology because of paranoia about ID theft. By the time this tech was put in American cards, it used a newer generation (Blink) and, guess what, these won’t work with Velib either. The result is that this wonderful system (and I do really dig it) is available to most tourists of the world, but not to Americans. Drag.

    I hope that you are well. Still loving the bike.

    – David

  8. antbikemike says:

    Such great comments! Thank you to everyone for speaking up. I think this is my most lively post on the blog.

    • datillo says:

      Mike, I agree, the debate has been great, and hopefully more stories of people’s experiences with bike share will come in.

      I have a feeling that bike share might become a sort of truth machine about a country’s cycle culture. i man that it will reveal by giving easy access to both locals and visitors where things are going.

      Is the dominant culture is macho and lycra based as here, or is it more utility cycling, just getting around as in Europe. Is the changing from one to the other?

      As I said before, it will be very sad if this truth machine cant come to Australian because of our helmet laws. We need to face up to what’s happening here, which is often a state of war between cyclists and other traffic.

      iI would be great if you’d think of posting my film on the Bike Share and helmets don’t mix on your blog. it on my at http://datillo.wordpress.com/

  9. Steven M. says:

    I hope those of us who wear lycra and those who wear street clothes (I do both) can stay united against the dominance of automobile culture. A good way to lose the fight is to engage in internecine warfare. After all, there are some pretty good bike racers in Europe along with all those utility cyclists.

    • datillo says:

      That’s true Steven, but my perception, and it’s true I’m a newcomer, it that the lcycra culture dominates her in Australia at least, and it’s not a friendly one.

      Riders usually war dark glasses. This, and the half down head position means, there is no eye contact. I try greeting other riders from my sit-up position and almost never get an acknowledgment.

      In my car, which I use much less now, I feel at last a passive hostility from these riders.

      I know they are busy improving their times , but it would be good to dilute this remoteness with some more of the friendly slower interactive riding you see in Europe, where just getting around on a bike is so common and so successful

      When i was making my film about Sue Abbott, the rural helmet protester (Sue fights against helmets) what impressed me most was the way she waved to passing cars. It’s really weird to see, but nice.

      You can find it on http://datillo.wordpress.com/

    • Phil S says:

      I agree … This time of year, I wear a windbreaker or normal jacket over shirt+tie/khakis (my work clothes) as I right to work or the store or the Y upright on my LR. In warm weather, replace those clothes with cargo shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. (and helmet, I might add, although I don’t think the “science” is convincing yet).
      Anyway, I get waves and “hellos” from those out getting their newspaper, morning walks, etc…friendly responses. I think it is much less threatening to the non-athlete (it doesn’t look like sweat and exertion and exercise), and just looks like bicycling might be an enjoyable and friendly means of transport.
      Nothing against the Spandex/Lycra crowd – – even they are often kind enough to say “hello” when they fly by me on their carbon frames. It’s just not what bicycling for transportation is all about, though, and that’s really the message that needs to be encouraged if we’re going to move to more sustainable transportation.

  10. datillo says:

    Phil, do take a moment to have a look at Sue Abbott. When i caught her riding on her country road, I felt I’d found a new poster girl, though she’s a bit past girl in age, for freedom riding.

    Her issue, was and is the helmet. But it was the whole package which fascinated me, the way she sat, and above all the way she waved to cars.

    That would be considered a an act of betrayal here, consorting with the enemy.

    But practically for the time being, they do own the roads or more of the roads, , and they are big and dangerous and I do see it as reasonable to calm things down.

    Much better the way Sue behaves than a guy in lycra who boarded a Sydney bus two weeks ago, and beat up the driver because the guy had passed to close to him. Never mind that th cyclist was in a bus lane, banned to bikes.

    Admittedly, Sue mostly rides in the country where the chances are the passing motorist knows her, or at least seen her before, but still I think she’s on the fight track, not the bus driver beater. Mike

  11. Charlotte says:

    A bike share in Boulder, CO (Spokes for Folks) did not work, again due to vandalism.

    As I’ve said before, the biggest upside of a state-run bicycle share is in the psychology of it all. Bikes on the road, provided by the state, says to the world “I BELONG”. The city of Boston WANTS me here. It’s similar to the bike lanes but in many ways easier to do in our position of limited roadway. There are many issues with the implementation, but this is a valuable step in the right direction, whether it lasts forever or just for a while.

    • I agree about all of that. But a state-run programme can still source the bicycles locally. Just saying.

      • Charlotte says:

        I have never had any position whatsoever on where the bikes would come from. Indeed the city of Boulder used pre-owned bikes painted a noxious shade of yellow. If only Mike could build Boston several thousand ANTs between now and next May!

        As an aside, I got some photos of an ANT downtown yesterday, can’t wait to post them. The elegance of that bike was visible from blocks away. I showed the image on my camera to my husband this morning. Without zooming he said “is that an ANT?” Of course!

        Anyway, local bicycles sound *great* to me, so long as when I’m riding it the car next to me looks at it and thinks “she has a right to be here”.

  12. Beth says:

    I’m currently a student at Champlain College in Burlington VT, and their having a contest to present a structure and identity for a bike sharing system that can be implemented throughout the city!.. any ideas.
    I’ve been cramming on bixi, velib, other options like CoBi (which looks really nice), but all in all, nobody says anything about definite costs? and Burlington is a small rural city.. I don’t know if we need a system as large as Bixi? What options do we have.. what should I incorporate into this structure.
    I’ve already incorporated so many important ideas presented in this blog, like looking locally (or at least american made) for the bikes, trying to incorporate the community in some way. I don’t think vandalism and other sorts will be too much of a problem, but I would like to address a future solution.. ?
    Open for opinions, can’t wait to hear replies!

    • Mike Rubbo says:

      Hi Beth, I thought you were talking about my blog, but I see it the other Mike’s blog, which is fun to find again.

      You seem to be on top of the question. My understanding is that there has to a be lot of the bikes for people to get excited. Bixi managed that in Montreal last summer. 6000 around that city was lot.

      Also, not one seems to be stressing the imaginative side. I mean , peop-le will use them if they think the idea is cool, interesting, reflects well on them, etc, as well as because they are g convenient. As David Hembrow says in one of my films, people ride bikes because it’s fun not for any hair shirt reasons.

      Part of being fun, is validating one’s self image in a positive way. So the PR surrounding the program is very important, the way its branded.

      Not just self image but the actual image too. My contention is that not enough attention is paid to the ability of the stately sit-up type of bike to confer a nice look on the rider .

      they are very flattering for both sexes but esp.. women. check out Copenhagen cycle chic to see what I mean.

      with bike you have to counter the fact that riders feel vulnerable. The sit up bike with the stately (and I think that is the key word, the magic word) sit-up bike overcomes all than by conferring power on the rider.

      You are quite high up. You actually look down on drivers, even 4 wheel drivers to some degree. this high post means you can make eye contact with motorists and reward those who are courteous, with a smile.

      It is a totally different look and vibe to the hunched over spandex, lycra look of the sports rider.

      Bike share has to come to personify that stately look. The bikes have to be designed according. There need be no loss of performance. With good tires, pumped up real hard, these bike will roll as smoothly as thinner, lighter, bikes.

      Hope this helps. let me know on my blog’ http://situp-cycle com

      Mike Rubbo

  13. mike rubbo says:

    Montreal seems to have had almost no vandalism nor has London. Melbourne is beset by another problem, much more easily solved if courage emerges. The comp. helmet law. http://situp-cycle.com

    Cheers, Mike

  14. I think it’s interesting that a maker of custom bikes is criticising bike share for being too extravagant!

    Vandalism is always a little sad but consider that this report came after two years of operation, and that each bike is used two to five times per day on average. If each bike needs to be replaced after two years, that’s 2000-3000 trips per bicycle before they get replaced. The Times article has a correction saying that the manufacturing cost of a new bike is $1050. So that’s 50 cents per trip, or one dollar per trip for the whole system including maintenance. That’s actually pretty cheap as public transportation goes!

    • antbikemike says:


      Thanks for your comment.

      I have to say that it is not fair to make this comment to me about a post I made over 2 years ago! I think there is now better information about bike shares and they finally got the one in Boston installed this last summer. The results have been pretty good.

      I guess I should make a new blog post about the updates, but geezz….2 years 3 months ago.

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