Do share bikes have a future? Part 3

Published on 17 November 2017 by Hilary Staples

This summer thousands of bright-coloured share bikes suddenly appeared all over Amsterdam and Rotterdam, causing a heated debate. In part 3 of the series 'Do share bikes have a future?' we ask whether Dutch cyclists actually want a share bike. Are there other, maybe better alternatives?
Do share bikes have a future? blog series:
Swapfiets lease bikes in the student city of Utrecht. Photo © Holland-Cycling.com

Swapfiets lease bikes in the student city of Utrecht. Photo © Holland-Cycling.com

Own bike vs share bike

Share bikes are aimed at cyclists living in the cities - at least that's what the companies renting the bikes say. According to FlickBike, share bikes are the perfect solution to the large number of abandoned bikes that overcrowd Dutch cities. "Last year 60,000 bikes were removed [in Amsterdam alone]. If something gets broken, people abandon their bike and buy a new one. If Amsterdamers no longer have a bike of their own, but use share bikes, there will be more space in the long run."

The question is, are Dutch cyclists willing to give up their own bike and rely on the share bikes? In Holland the bike is an important mode of transport and bike ownership is high: 1.3 bikes per citizen. Especially in cities on an average day Dutch cyclists make several short journeys. They are used to having a bike of their own which they can use whenever they want. To give this up, there has to be a damned good alternative that is both convenient and affordable. Is the share bike the answer?

Bicycle-shaped objects

So far the share bike hasn't received a very warm welcome. Many cyclists feel that the thousands of free-floating share bikes take up valuable parking spaces, leaving them with nowhere to park their own bike. Some citizens in Amsterdam and Rotterdam were so unhappy with the 'dump bikes' as they've been nick-named, that bikes were vandalised, put out in the street with the rubbish and relocated so they could no longer be tracked down.

There are also cyclists who like the concept of a modern bike on demand. One of them is Raymon whose bike was stolen due to a lack of safe bike parking facilities at his apartment. He took a test ride on the OBike. Overall he was positive about the App and the way the rental was organised. However, he was very negative about the bike itself - "the most uncomfortable bike ever" - and the high costs - "Two three-minute rides? It cost a euro". His conclusion: In your home town you're better off having your own bike.

Users of the free-floating share bike seem to agree that these low-maintenance bikes are substandard. Some even refer to them as BSOs (bicycle-shaped objects) as they question whether they even quality as bikes. The main complaints are that the frame is too small for the average Dutch cyclist and the only gear is too low to cycle comfortably. Their solid tyres make for a strenuous ride. Especially steep bridges are considered a problem. "To make some speed I had to pedal hard and after three km I was exhausted."

Alternatives?

With such bad reviews, it doesn't sound like Dutch cyclists will be swapping their own bike for a share bike any time soon. The share bike is an interesting alternative for a rental bike, but even if the quality of the share bikes improves, I can't see it becoming a popular alternative for every-day use. As most cyclists in the city make several short journeys a day, it is simply more economically viable for them to get a cheap second-hand bike - and, unfortunately, when something gets broken and the bike is not worth repairing, to abandon it...

So are there other alternatives to bike ownership that are more affordable and that possibly do have the potential to reduce the nuisance caused by abandoned bikes? At the beginning of September bright-coloured Swapfiets bikes with blue tyres suddenly popped up all over the student city of Utrecht. Not share bikes, but lease bikes. An interesting concept.

Lease bike

Three years ago a group of students in Delft came up with the idea of the lease bike - essentially an affordable bike solution without responsibility. Rather than owning a cheap and unreliable second-hand bike and being responsible for repairs, you can lease a trouble-free Swapfiets for 15 euro a month (12 euro for students).

You get a bike of your own which you can use as much as you want. If your bike breaks down, your bike will be swapped within 24 hours for another bike - hence the name Swapfiets. The Swapfiets is now available in ten student cities. This summer they had an impressive 50.000 members. Students are clearly happy to swap their own bike for a lease bike.

Conclusion

So is there a demand for the share bike? If we look at the success of the OV-bicycle scheme over the past 15 years, the answer has to be: yes, there is a demand. But only as a quick and easy alternative to the rental bike, not as a replacement for the individually owned bike. Personally I can't imagine ever giving up being a bike owner. However, for those that do want to give it a go, I think the lease bike is a more interesting concept than the share bike.

 
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