Barcelona's bike sharing programme the world's best, says US think tank

US think tank says successful programmes use comfortable, commuter-style bicycles

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 9:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 9:16pm


Barcelona boasts the world's most successful bicycle share programme, according to a report that lays out the secrets of getting more people out and about on two wheels.

Every day, the Spanish Mediterranean city's "Bicing" system averages 10.8 trips per bike and 67.9 trips per 1,000 residents across the system, according to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a think tank in the US capital.

Hard on its heels are the French city of Lyons, and New York, Rio de Janeiro, Montreal, Paris and Mexico City.

These systems are [having] a really high impact on mobility

Little known a decade ago, bicycle sharing has spread quickly around the world, with an estimated 400 to 600 communities, from big metropolitan areas to small towns, launching schemes, and more following suit.

"We aren't saying whether any of those [systems] are better than one another," said Colin Hughes, the ITDP's director for national policy and project evaluation.

"The main point is that these are systems that are exhibiting a really high impact on mobility in the cities they're in. There's a high percentage of people using them and they are showing themselves to be pretty cost effective," Hughes said.

"The public investment is really worthwhile there."

For its report, "The Bike Share Planning Guide", the ITDP crunched the numbers from bicycle share programmes around the world to establish, for the first time, what it takes to have a winning rent-a-bicycle network.

Some points seem obvious, such as "comfortable, commuter-style bicycles" specially designed to discourage theft, as well as easy-to-use, fully automated locking systems at docking stations and attractive pricing to encourage maximum use.

But what was especially key, the report stated, was "a dense network of stations ... with an average spacing of 300 metres" between them.

"We recommend 10 to 16 stations per square kilometre and 10 to 30 bikes for every 1,000 residents within a coverage zone," Hughes said.

"You scale the stations by area, and then you scale the number of bikes at those stations to the number of people who are living there."

Another essential element is the use of cellphone technology to keep track of the availability of bicycles in real time and sharing that data with users via the internet, smartphones and computer screens at docking stations.

One lesson that some cities like Washington learned the hard way was that launching a scheme with too few bikes and too few places to dock them was a mistake.

"What we tend to see is that the systems that are most successful don't start small," he said.

"When you open a system, that's the most valuable time you have.

"That's when it makes news. That's when you're exposing the public to your system, and what you really want is for people's first experience to be a really positive one."