Transportation Deployment Casebook/2018/Bike Sharing

Birth and Technical DevelopmentEdit

The 1800s and 1900s saw the innovation and growth of rail, tram and bus networks which provided the public with a means of transport between major destinations. The implementation  of such services, namely the public transport network, created a problem for commuters who had to walk between transit stations and their final destination, commonly known as the “last mile” problem. This problem sparked the possibility of a new transport technology that would help people travel to and from the closest transit stations. Bike sharing, that is, walking to the nearest bike sharing station and riding a bike to another bike sharing station, that is closer to your final destination, was developed and integrated into the public transport network. People who would not choose public transport because of the “last mile” problem now have the opportunity to use public transport with greater ease. It has given those living in the CBD the opportunity to use only bikes on their daily commute, reduced road congestion, increased peoples health, increased accessibility and decreased annual transport spending all whilst reducing peoples environmental footprint.

The evolution of bike sharing can be categorised into three generations: White Bikes (or free bike systems), Coin-Deposit systems, and Information Technology-based systems [1].

One of the first concepts of a bike sharing system was Witte Fietsen, (White Bicycle Plan) a free bike system, created by the Dutch counterculture movement, Provo, in 1965. The group painted 50 bicycles white and spread them unlocked around Amsterdam. The system aimed to cut all modes of private motorised vehicles in Amsterdam in the hope that it would reduce traffic problems and encourage public transport use, so making Amsterdam a more liveable city. The ability for users to take a bike and leave it wherever they wanted caused issues. It did not take long before the bikes were either damaged or stolen and later impounded by police as the laws prohibited leaving unlocked bikes in public places. Arguably the first successful bike sharing system, also a White Bike system, was the Vélos Jaunes initiated by La Rochelle’s mayor Michel Crépeau in 1974. The system was implemented as an environmentally sustainable measure and was highly successful. It is still in use today, although there is now a fee after the first two hours of use and user identification is required.

The second generation of bike sharing was the Coin-Deposit system which consisted of designated docking stations in which bikes were locked, borrowed, and returned. A small deposit was required to unlock the bike which was refunded when the bike was returned. In 1995 Bycyken, a Danish bike sharing system launched the first Coin-Deposit system. This system was more reliable than previous systems and resulted in less theft of bikes. To cope with the harsh utilitarian use, bikes were fitted with solid resin rubber tyres and advertising plates which covered the rear wheel. The non-pneumatic tyres reduced the number of punctures and bikes that were out of service. The new method of advertising sparked the potential for bike sharing companies to generate revenue. It was seen as a success and implemented across Europe in countries such as Norway, Finland and Denmark with funding provided by the local government. As the system grew it became more expensive to run and although the Coin-Deposit system had new features such as bike stations that would lock the bikes, bike theft remained a costly issue.

The late 1900s to early 2000s sore the rapid development of Information Technology-based bike sharing systems, the third generation bike sharing system. Magnetic strip cards could store user information and electronically locking bike station racks worked together to log the journey of users. This became a fundamental component of the bike sharing system as bike sharing companies began to charge users based on the amount of time they used the bike. When buying a subscription to the bike sharing system users entered their personal details and banking information, enabling quick, direct transactions to be made and the possibility for deposits to be held which could be credited if a bike was to go missing. Bike sharing companies could also log users movements throughout the day in real-time, giving rise to the ability to redistribute bikes across the network to meet demand during peak times. The revenue that bike sharing companies was making could be used to improve the system in the form of maintenance and redistribution of bikes across the network further making the bike sharing system more reliable and a fundamental part of public transport users commute. The third generation bike sharing system was the precursor of today's global bike sharing systems.

Vélib, a French bike sharing company in Paris was one of the early Information Technology-based bike sharing companies and is now one of the largest bike sharing companies in the world, with over 20,000 bicycles and 1200 stations throughout Paris. Annual subscription costs €29, a one-day pass,€1.70 or a 7 day pass for €8. Once you pay the flat fee, the first 30 mins are free, €1 for the next 30 minutes, €2 for the next 30 minutes and €4 for the next 30 minutes[2]. The design of the fares encourage users to ride for short trips. The ability to ride all day, swapping your bike every 30 minutes, paying only the fixed fee is a great incentive for tourists wanting to explore the city. There are two methods of payment, registering online and providing your bank account details or direct at the terminal using your bank card.

Modern Smartphone technology is further enhancing the bike sharing system. Users can download an App on their smartphone that displays a map of the area with the bike stations highlighted. Users can then check the availability of bikes or free spaces at bike stations which are continuously updated as people take and return bikes. Previously users had to use the terminal at a bike station to get this information. Using the App means users can plain out their trip whilst on the move. This may mean alighting at a different stop than usual so they can get a bike from a station that has them available.

The integration of Information technology with the bike sharing system has eliminated user anonymity, since they have to provide some form of banking details to rent a bike, meaning all bikes can be traced back to the user. This has significantly reduced the number of bikes being stolen. The ability to tap a bank card at the terminal or register online means payment is both direct and deposits can be held and returned easily. The real-time updates of the bike stations has enabled  improved re-distribution of bikes throughout the network further enhancing users experience.

Innovation in new emerging technologies and learning from the limitations of previous bike sharing systems is improving the way bike sharing systems operate and are integrated within public transport networks. Current bike sharing systems now incorporate Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking of bikes, touch screen terminals, advanced bike redistribution, transport card integration and even electric bikes. These 21st century innovations have given rise to a new generation, the fourth generation, Demand-Response, Multimodal systems [1].

On the 1st of January 2018 Vélib' Métropole a new innovated fourth generation bike sharing system was launched in Paris. The new electric bikes give users the opportunity to have rest or climb a hill at a top speed of 25 km/hour with a 50km range. The bikes are fitted with an electronic unit called a V-Box which gives users quick, direct access to the bikes. They contain an Near-field communication (NFC) chip and a piezoelectric keyboard that can activate and deactivate the lock. The system is designed to enable users to park there bikes at stations that are full during peak hours. Once a bike station becomes full users are able to attach their bike in between two other bikes that are already parked using the “Fork lock” system. The Fork Lock system also allows users to make a temporary stop for a few minutes using a Neiman-style lock integrated within the handlebars. The locking system is controlled by the V-Box requiring users to enter a pin or scan their card to lock or unlock the bike. The integrated Fork Lock and V-Box system also registers when users have securely parked their bike indicating the end of the hire period, and the fee, if necessary, deducted from the users bank account[3].

The role of PolicyEdit

As outlined above the birthing phase of bicycle sharing was the result of Dutch activists trying to change Government policy on transport, as such it is unlikely they had policies of their own. Even once take up of the idea had gained momentum, policies imposed directly on bike sharing users was very little.

The major policy or law affecting users is the mandatory wearing of helmets in Australia and New Zealand. Poland, the UK and Italy have tried to pass laws regarding helmet use but have not been successful. Mandatory helmet use is one of the biggest barriers to using bike sharing schemes. The mandatory use of helmets in Seattle is believed to be one of the fundamental reasons for the failure of a bike sharing company. Research by CityCycle in Brisbane found that the main reason users did not want to wear a helmet was because their trips were generally unplanned and therefore carrying a helmet all the time was an inconvenience. [4]

As bicycle sharing systems mature and become increasingly dominant in the urban landscape, a wide range of policies will incorporate them in some way. These policies, private and government, might include environmental, road safety, urban planning and health.

Sustainability in cities is threatened by motor vehicle dependence. To overcome this, policies need to be developed that facilitate bicycle sharing programs. The Western Australian Government has developed policies which put aside land for an off-road network of cycleways, especially for recreation and other on-road routes for commuting. [5]

Environmental policies,  particularly those concerning worsening air quality also impact on bicycle sharing systems. Unlike motor vehicles, bicycles do not pollute the air, nor do they consume fossil fuels. Bicycle use helps to reduce CO2 emissions, which brings bicycle usage within the scope of environmental policies. [6]

The number of public bicycles sharing the road has increased exponentially since the beginning of the 21st century, see Figure 1. While it might be expected, that this would lead to a increase of accidents resulting in serious or fatal injuries the opposite is true. [7] With more cyclists on the road policies change to accommodate and protect cyclists. For example in NSW, laws have been recently passed that limit how close motor vehicles can overtake cyclists. The overall view is that road safety increases with bicycle planning[7]. Apart from this being the result of policy, more cyclists on the road results in other road users increasing their vigilance, expectation, and anticipation of cyclists, thereby increasing safety for all.

The integration of bicycles sharing systems with well established transport systems requires a systemic approach. Unfortunately, cycle policy is often ad hoc [8]. Cyclists do not often cause problems and it is largely when they do that policy makers step in.

In order to combat the theft of bikes a Coin-Deposit system was created. Users unlocked bikes from designated bike racks with a coin deposit that was refunded upon return [1]. This drastically reduced the number of bikes that were left in public spaces which had to be disposed of at the cost of the government. Locked bikes at stations was now the criteria for growing bike sharing companies.

The Information Technology-based, Third generation, bike sharing system sore a innovative way to secure bikes at bike stations. Bike stations were built with electric locking docks or racks that the user would push their bike into and then the lock would engage. To rent a bike the user would enter their pin at the bike station terminal and their selected bike would be electronically unlocked too which they could then pull the bike from the dock. This ingenious innovation also enabled logging of users trip duration which is used to calculate a fee based on the time spent travelling.

The new Information Technology-based system made it possible to implement a bike sharing system across the globe in all cities. It would play a critical role in the public transport network and incentivised more people to use public transport. The efficient running and maintenance of the bike sharing system whilst keeping user cost low was the fundamental problem with the new system.

There are six main types of bike sharing providers which have differing benefits and limitations; non-profits, universities, advertising companies, quasi-government transport agencies, governments and for-profits[9] .

The Danish bike sharing system, Bycyklen, is a non-profit system which operates its bikes, stations and redistribution in the same way that other third generation bike sharing systems work. The difference is that non-profit systems are funded by not only revenue made by membership and usage fees but the local government. Non-profit systems remove liability from the local community and place it on the not for profit company which is unlikely to be sued due to limited assets. A limitation of non-profit systems is they can be reliant on the local government for the majority of their funding and therefore a drop in funding could lead to the potential failure of the bike sharing system.

University run systems such as the La Trobe University in Melbourne operate a bike sharing system with fourteen stations spread around the campus. The system operates using a ‘key capture’ locking system which uses a universal key to unlock and lock the bike to one of the bike hoops at each station. The opportunity for University students and staff to use a bike to get around campus enhances the way students and staff move around university making it easier to get around. Since most universities are built upon private land the number of bike stations can be easily expanded to meet demand. A limitation of this system is that it does not allow surrounding neighbourhoods, where students and staff live off campus, to access the bikes.

Government operated bike sharing systems are operated like any other Government controlled transport service. The system is run as not for profit and the Government controls the system. In such a system the Government also has liability for the system and political factors can sometimes affect the running of it. As such efficiency and reliability are main objectives. Unfortunately however, Governments may not have the experience to run a bike sharing system and may fall short of these objectives. Indeed one of the disadvantages of Government and quasi-government bike sharing services is that the service is never put out for tender and so more experienced and efficient,   service providers are not used.  Perhaps in an attempt to mitigate this problem, the Government of Burgos, Spain, purchased and operated an ‘off the shelf’ bike sharing system called Bicibur.

Private company systems are for-profit and operate without any government funding or incentives. Ofo is a Beijing based bike sharing company which now operates bike sharing systems globally. The major benefit of this system is it operates as a business and therefore all profit is reinvested which can lead to rapid innovation. Ofo has revolutionised the bike sharing concept by removing bike stations and using public land anywhere and everywhere to park the bikes. Users download an app on their phone that, by using GPS installed on the bikes, shows where available bikes are located. Users then locate the bike scan a Quick Response (QR) code on the bike which unlocks the bike and starts the users travel time. Once a user arrives at their destination they find a spot to park the bike, which can be anywhere, and end their journey. The fee is directly taken out of the user's bank account, connected when downloading the app, based on the time the bike is rented for. The major limitations of this system is there is no funding given by the government also if the government does not allow the company to use public space to park the bikes they must acquire private land to park the bikes. Due to the relatively miniscule number of regulations regarding bike sharing systems across the world companies like ofo have created a major issue in cities where such station less systems have been implemented. Bikes are being parked in areas that are creating severe public nuisance and even posing a danger to the public. Vandalism and theft of bikes has skyrocketed with most of the bikes being left unusable on public property. This problem has called for a major overlook of the regulations surrounding bike sharing systems but has yet to be implemented.

One of the largest bike sharing systems in the world Vélib, located in Paris, is operated by the advertising company JCDecaux. The system works by the local government giving the bike sharing system the right to display advertising surrounding areas of the local transport network, which generates revenue. This means of operation is highly beneficial to the local government which may not be able to afford funding a bike sharing system. The limitation of this system is the advertising company generally does not make a profit as the revenue is usually paid back to the local government.

The quasi-government model relies on a state governed transport authority to operate the system. Call a Bike is a German bike sharing system operated by the national railway provider Deutche Bahn. This system has the same advantages and disadvantages as Government controlled systems as outlined above.

My personal mode of transport to alleviate the “last mile” issue which could also be used as the sole mode of transport for those living in CBDs is a skateboard. As electric skateboards are becoming more common the concepts behind the bike sharing scheme could be reinvented using electric skateboards. Unlike bikes, electric skateboards have no gears that can wear out, brakes that can fail or tyres that wear, and are much smaller, meaning skateboard stations would take up less room than bike stations. Redistribution of skateboards would be faster since more could fit into  transport vehicles. Depending on the users journey different models of skateboards could be offered. Shortboards for short  journeys or longboards for longer cruise type journeys and even off road boards for those that have cobblestone streets on their commute. Since skateboards are much smaller and versatile compared to bikes they could be taken with the user if their destination was out of the range of skateboard stations.  

Quantitative analysis of the life cycle of bike sharingEdit

The life cycle of bike sharing can be estimated using an S-curve to identify the periods of birthing, growth and maturity. A three parameter logistic function was used to model an S-curve using the developed dataset. In attaining the data used it was difficult to find a dataset that contained statistics from 1995-present. The dataset was therefore compiled by a number of resources. The dataset between 1995 and 2001 was calculated by researching all of the bike sharing systems globally that were developed each year and the cumulative number of bikes added together. The data between 2002 and 2012 was taken from The Bike-Sharing Blog [10] and the data from 2013-2016 was taken from The Bike-Sharing Blog [11]

Three parameter logistic function, below, was used to model an S-curve.

S(t) = K/[1+exp(-b(t-t0)]


  • S(t) is the status measure,  (e.g. Passenger-km traveled)
  • t is time (usually in years),
  • t0 is the inflection time (year in which 1/2 K is achieved),
  • K is saturation status level,
  • b is a coefficient.  

Given bike sharing is still in its infancy the k value was unknown. To determine the curve of best fit several iterations were trialled. Once the k value reached 110,000,000 increasing it further did not alter the shape of the S-curve and the R squared value remained constant at 0.9725 with corresponding t0 value 2026 and b value 0.0384. The curve generated at this iteration is the best fit curve, see Figure 1 and corresponding data in Table 1.

Figure 1 Bike sharing deployment
Table 1
Year Number of public bikes Predicted
1995 1500 613.2142
1996 1500 901.0172
1997 1800 1323.895
1998 2100 1945.239
1999 2100 2858.192
2000 3200 4199.602
2001 3500 6170.529
2002 5000 9066.36
2003 10000 13321.04
2004 15000 19572.01
2005 18000 28755.52
2006 20,000 42246.43
2007 55,000 62063.14
2008 130,000 91167.65
2009 225,000 133904.1
2010 320,000 196638.2
2011 375,000 288686
2012 400,000 423655.7
2013 700,000 621370.7
2014 946,000 910590
2015 1,270,000 1332787
2016 2,294,600 1947243

Given the stage that bike sharing is currently at the predicted number of bikes and the corresponding years were extended until a distinguishable S-curve was created, see Figure 2. In analysing both Figure 1 & 2 the actual rate of growth compared to the proposed rate of growth is very similar. Using Figure 2 the dates of the life cycle phases were estimated resulting in birthing (1995-2019), growth (2020-2031) and maturity (2032-onwards).

Figure 2: Predicting the global growth of public bikes S-curve


  1. a b c Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 2143, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C., 2010, pp. 159–167. DOI: 10.3141/2143-20, Bikesharing in Europe, the Americas, and Asia Past, Present, and Future, Susan A. Shaheen, Stacey Guzman, and Hua Zhang
  3. Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 2143, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C., 2010, pp. 159–167. DOI: 10.3141/2143-20, Bikesharing in Europe, the Americas, and Asia Past, Present, and Future, Susan A. Shaheen, Stacey Guzman, and Hua Zhang
  4. Fishman, E., Washington, S., & Haworth, N. (2012a). Barriers and Facilitators to Public Bicycle Scheme Use: A Qualitative Approach. Transportation Research Part F-Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 15 (6), 686-698
  5. Newman, Peter; Sustainability and Cities-Overcoming Automobile Dependence, p235
  6. McClintock, Hugh; Planning for cycling-Principles, practice and solutions for urban planners, p4
  7. a b Tolley, Rodney; Sustainable transport-Planning for walking and cycling in urban environments, p173
  8. Crow; Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, p20
  9. Journal of Public Transportation, Vol. 12, No. 4, 2009 Bike-sharing: History, Impacts,  Models of Provision, and Future, Paul DeMaio MetroBike, LLC
  10. R, Meddin, 2012, The Bike-Sharing Blog,
  11. R, Meddin, 2016, The Bike-Sharing Blog,