Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bike Sharing in the Netherlands

On the "bike sharing world map" there is one strikingly blank country...the Netherlands. You could think that in a country of 16 million who possess 18 million bikes there would be no need for sharing bikes. But that would be wrong: the Dutch do share bikes and on a large scale.

Since 2007 when Paris first started bike sharing, every self-respecting modern city seems to have bike share. Milan, Brussels, Bogota, London, Melbourne: some 200 cities worldwide. Most of these schemes call itself 'free'. Meaning the first half hour is free, but keep the bike 2 hours and it will cost you 7 euros (Paris) or 6 pounds (London). Keep it even longer and Paris charges you a ridiculous 151 euros for 20 hours! Clearly these programs are designed for short use. For single trips, not round trips. If you have a meeting somewhere in town you can only hope the meeting place has a nearby bike-station too, for the rental fee would cost you dearly after a two hour meeting.

The Dutch have –like so many things to do with cycling- a different approach. Their nation wide program started in 2003. What the Dutch started was not so much new, it was modernizing what had existed in the country for decades. Almost every train station in the Netherlands has manned bike parking facilities and in most of those it has always been possible to hire a bike.

In 2008 the national OV-fiets program was taken over by the Dutch Railways. Literally the name means 'Public Transport bicycle'. That is exactly what it is: an extension of public transportation. Trains go almost everywhere in the Netherlands, but they do not get you entirely from A to B. To bridge that final part of your journey this bike scheme is perfect.
How it works
You become a member for 10 euros per year. You get a subscription card with a pin-code or the subscription is directly connected to the card you already possess for train travel. That way you don’t end up with multiple cards in your wallet and it is once more underlining the fact that this is an extension of your train travel. In a manned station you simply present the card. The person manning the bikes scans your card,the bike you take with you, and you are on your way. Takes about 5 seconds. The hire fee is always for a 24 hour period and costs you just 3 euros which is less than a round trip by bus in any Dutch city. You can go where ever you want to go with the bike and you can even take it overnight. It has a lock so you can also park it. This scheme is designed for (longer) round-trips. It expects you to return to the train station to get back to where you initially started your journey.

When you return, the bike gets scanned again and you can continue home by train. If you kept the bike longer, the next 24 hour period costs you 5 euros extra.

There are also un-manned stations where the system works just like any other electronic bike scheme. You swipe your card and enter your pin-code. A bike is electronically released and you take it with you.

The fee for the bike hire is automatically withdrawn from your bank account. A standard payment procedure in the Netherlands and this is arranged when you become a member. You can keep track of your journeys on-line.

The scheme is a success. About 85,000 people are member now. They made 835,000 trips in 2010 alone from one of the 230 bike hire stations that can be found all over the country. The bright yellow/blue bikes (the colors of the Dutch Railways) are very visible in the streets of the Netherlands.

This bike hire scheme is really designed for residents, as it involves a membership that has to be arranged in advance. But for tourists other bikes can be rented from almost every train station too.
YearLocations Subscriptions Bikes Rides
2004   7011,000800100,000
2005   8420,0001,300189,000
2006  10130,0002,500250,000
2007  14043,0003,000335,000
2008  18251,000 ?480,000
2009  20067,0004,500670,000
2010  23085,0005,000835,000

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