Bike sharing: Switzerland ahead of the pack
From being a marginal system just ten years ago, bike sharing has now become an essential feature of most large urban areas and far from being an exception to the rule, Switzerland is now an integral part of the movement.
In recent years, the most urban among us have witnessed the explosion of a new type of two-wheel transportation. In barely a decade, self-service bikes have become a distinct feature of the urban landscape.
Convenient, environmentally-friendly and in line with the needs of the people of the time, bike sharing solutions have experienced exponential growth in recent years, to the extent that the numbers of bikes used for sharing has more than tripled in three years, exceeding 2 million units in 2016. Although the vast majority of these bikes are being ridden on Chinese roads, it’s a global trend and Switzerland is right up there with the leaders! It’s a real revolution we really should take a look at.
It all starts with a little provocation
Bike sharing has been a revolutionary movement since it began. The concept actually dates back to the 1960s and a group of Dutch anarchists, called Provo, who flooded the streets of Amsterdam with white-painted bikes, intended to be used freely and then left for other users afterwards. This great initiative was undoubtedly a bit ahead of its time: with no locks, the bikes quickly disappeared.
New technologies to the rescue
We had to wait more than twenty years for the idea to be made popular again by more serious proponents, using systems that could identify users with magnetic cards. This paved the way for bike sharing as we know it today, based on smartphone apps and geolocation, helping users easily find stations and available bikes.
The rapid development of bike sharing is thus closely linked to technological progress, but its success also owes a great deal to changing mentalities. Environmental concerns have become omnipresent in people’s minds and the model of the private car is experiencing a marked decline.
For all these reasons, bike sharing is now widely adopted, with as many modes of use as there are users. The system appeals to tourists and walkers alike and is incredibly popular with students and commuters.
There are two main types of bike sharing systems. On the one hand, bikes are borrowed from and returned to fixed stations. This solution is the most widespread. On the other hand, with the “floating bikes” system, available bikes can be located via an app and left wherever the user wants after use.
The solution based on fixed stations has many advantages, particularly in the Swiss market. For example, it’s easier to locate bikes, which will always be in the same place. Plus, if you want to ride in a group, bikes are centralised so you don’t have to go all over the place to find enough of them.
Everything in the right place: the Swiss vision
Last but not least, this system protects the tidy, ordered environment treasured by the residents of Swiss towns and cities. By comparison, China went the other way and opted for a widespread system of floating bikes. A quick look online will show you just how this system has gone wrong: entire streets blocked with hundreds of bikes left lying around and veritable dumping grounds with heaps of abandoned bikes as far as the eye can see, the result of chaotic development. Unthinkable in our country!
Switzerland in the final sprint
With the development of PubliBike’s services, Switzerland now has a major operator in the field: it’s full steam ahead for the widespread deployment of bike sharing here. With fully modernised systems and networks, the introduction of e-bikes and many developments to come, just take a quick look at the PubliBike map of networks and stations (developed after a detailed needs analysis and linked with public transport). This should be enough to convince you that this is the way to go.
The brand new Bernese network has just been opened, and the city of Fribourg is on the starting blocks, with a launch scheduled for 3 July!