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Bike share 'On demand' schemes


Visit any major city, especially in Europe and North America and you may well come across a public bike share rental scheme or a brightly coloured ‘floating’ bike. Bike share rental schemes use a fully automated process that allows the renter to collect and return the bike to any approved docking station.

There are thought to be over 1,000 bike share schemes around the world with the greatest number of operations in Italy and Spain but by far the largest bike share fleets are in China. In the last few years, bike share schemes have evolved rapidly thanks to advances in technology and the ability to use smartphone mapping apps to give real time location of docking stations. This provides information on bike availability and docking spaces which considerably helps user experience and convenience.

Bike share schemes can vary from very small university campus schemes to large and complex operations but they all share the same thing in common; they aim to provide an easily accessible and affordable form of transport for short journey transiting. An alternative to private cars, thereby easing traffic congestion, pollution and noise. Bike share schemes also encourage an active and healthier lifestyle.

In Europe, Paris is one of the largest and longest

established bike share scheme. Operated under the name of Vélib, it has around 18,000 bikes across 1200 stations. London’s bike share scheme was started in 2010 and has 11,500 bikes available across 750 stations. There are many small towns and universities also operating bike share schemes. For example Exeter University with 8 docking stations/32 bikes and Redibike in Gibraltar with 13 stations/39 bikes.

Some schemes require pre-registration for use while others can be used on demand with

contactless payment systems. Public bike share schemes usually rely on local authority subsidies or sponsorship due to the need for investment in infrastructure. For convenience to users, analysis shows that docking stations need be no more than 300 metres apart and spaces readily available for returning bikes. Costs for re-distributing the bikes can be high and the system need to be well organised for it be successful. Numerous schemes have gone to the wall due to lack of accessibility and convenience.

Dock based and Dockless Bike shares

A relatively new phenomenon, ‘Dockless’ or ‘floating’ bike share systems do not use stations but usually have locks built into their bikes. Dockless bikes rely on built-in GPS and mobile data to allow users to locate the nearest bike.

With little in the way of infrastructure costs for private operators, dockless cycle share schemes are relatively quick and easy to set up. To enable the service, renters must have a smartphone and app with 4G data. This allows the would be renter to locate their nearest bike and then unlock it once their identity and payment details have been verified. Dockless bikes are fitted with GPS for live tracking. The rider can choose to leave the dockless bike anywhere in a city/town zone subject to local bylaws and rules. Once the journey is finished the renter clicks 'end ride' screen and the bike is remotely locked.


Dockless bikes are designed with certain parameters; bikes cannot be ridden or left outside of a designated central zone and must be parked carefully away from obstruction or anywhere impeding pedestrian access, otherwise they risk fines. Prohibited zones can be enabled on the app to prevent bikes being left in certain locations.

There is a usually a small unlocking fee plus a minimum charge per minute. Using the bikes' built-in GPS and enables operators to analyse travel data. Some authorities have agreements with operators to share travel behaviour patterns to optimise and plan cycling infrastructure.

A hybrid bike share system marries both of the above. A bike rental operator works in conjunction with the local authority to provide parking zones where bikes can be collected and dropped off. An example of this service is Beryl bikes, an operator in Bournemouth, Hereford and London.

E- bikes

In recent years, electric bikes have become much more popular due to affordability and improved range. Effortless appeal and versatility has opened up the cycling market to more people. Electric bikes are now common in bike share schemes but especially 'dockless' systems. In some cases, public bike share operators have converted bikes to electric assist using the docking bay as a charging station. 30% of the fleet in Paris are now e-bikes. Some dockless bike operators use bicycles and others use electric bikes. The latter tend to be more expensive to rent as e-bikes have to be collected and charged up or their batteries swapped. Apps can help users by displaying battery levels on the smartphone screen. Of course for a successful experience, 4G mobile data coverage is essential.

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