Fact sheet Bike sharing systems

Bike sharing systems have developed substantially through the years. From the plan for free 'white bikes’ in the 1960s to bicycles with smarter software. In the future, these systems may be expanded to also include interoperable systems, whereby the user has access to all the different bike sharing systems with a single user pass.

The advantage of these developments is that it is becoming increasingly simple for users to register for a bike sharing system. The bicycle can be easily ‘unlocked’ for use, and the eventual goal is to enable multiple bike sharing systems to be used, with a single subscription.

Bike sharing systems can take a variety of forms, based on the following five aspects:

  1. Accessibility
    The bicycle is either in an open or closed system. A closed system involves bicycles that are only accessible to a specific group, for example tourists or employees.
  2. Registration
    Registration varies depending on use. Does the system operate according to the traditional bike method or one-off registration via modern bike sharing systems?
  3. Return options
    • Back to one: the bike must be returned to the location where it was picked up. This system tends to work best for pre- and post-transport near stations. One example is the public transport bike (OV-fiets) that is issued and taken back via staffed bicycle parking facilities. This makes both the system and the space well manageable. However, it is less flexible for users.
    • Back to many: the bike may also be returned to other locations. In other words, the user does not necessarily have to return to the pick-up location. This offers the user greater flexibility. The disadvantage is that a fine-meshed network of return locations must be established in the city. It is also questionable whether this system is likely to succeed in the Netherlands given the country’s high levels of personal bike ownership.
    • Free floating: the bike can be left behind anywhere. The advantage of this system is that no special stations are needed to park the bicycles. In addition, it offers the users huge freedom. One possible disadvantage is that ‘floating’ bikes may cause an environmental nuisance. This is difficult for the government to control. It can also prove difficult for users to find a free bicycle nearby in their neighbourhood.
  4. Number of locations
    How many locations are available to the bike sharing system: single location, city-wide coverage, national coverage?
  5. Types of locations
    Where are the bike sharing locations: at a public transport hub, in the city centre, on a business park or is it a Park+Bike system?

Accessibility effects

The best known bike sharing system in the Netherlands is the OV-fiets. This system was introduced in 2008. The use of the OV-fiets is growing steadily. In 2009, 670,000 journeys were made by OV-fiets. In 2015, that had risen to 1.9 million and in 2016 use of OV-fiets rose further to 2.4 million journeys. Train use has also risen thanks to the availability of the OV-fiets: 52% of the 67,000 customers claim to travel by train more often thanks to the OV-fiets. A study by the cyclists union also revealed that car use has been reduced thanks to the OV-fiets: 17% of interviewees claim to occasionally travel by train and OV-fiets on a journey they would previously have completed by car. In addition, 16% are no longer collected (as often) from the station, by car.

The accessibility effects depend on the type of bike sharing system. On the one hand, the distinctions between back to one, back to many and free floating apply. Another aspect is the role of the bicycle in the overall mobility pattern of the users. Here, use is made of the classification from the Tour de Force. The table below contains information about the nature and possible effects of bike sharing systems. An estimate has been made on the basis of expert judgements and assumptions. It is difficult to judge the impact on the number of car journeys, as the effect created is an indirect one in most cases. In most cases, shared bikes are used at the final destination for the onward journey or a spontaneous journey.

The ‘main journey’ may be seen as a something separate, even though the availability of bike sharing does mean that people in the city are less dependent on cars and will therefore be more likely to complete their main journey by public transport.

nature and possible effects of bike sharing systems
Function of the bike Target group Potential effect per shared bike in terms of instances of rush-hour avoidance per day Examples
Public transport related system Public transport users (especially business and commuters) 0.2 0.8 users per day, 80% in 1.8 hours of the rush-hour period, 5% otherwise uses the car NS OV-fiets
Nextbike Arriva
Keobike Syntus
Urban/tourist sharing system Visitors (especially for recreational and business purposes) 0.1 1.2 users per day, 10% avoid main journey by car in one hour of the rush-hour period thanks to shared bike on site Gobike Rotterdam
Nextbike Maastricht
Hopperpoint Eindhoven
Park+Bike system P+R users (all) 0.7 0.6 users per day, 80% would otherwise use the car Park+Bike Leeuwarden
Nextbike Maastricht
Commercial location system Local employees (especially for business use) 0.3 0.5 users per day, 0% in the rush-hour, 33% avoid commuting in 1.8 hours of the rush-hour period by using a shared bike on site Hopperpoint Eindhoven
Shared bikes at business/ commercial sites

The shared bike is often a replacement for a second bike. A survey among users of the bike sharing system Velo in Antwerp revealed that 70% of Velo users also have their own bicycle. Around 40% indeed continue to cycle on their own bike as often as they did before. If they then also make use of a shared bike, this will replace another transport modality such as public transport (bus or tram) or car. A survey among blue-bike users revealed that the shared bike does actually replace a proportion of car journeys. The availability of shared bikes means that passengers are more easily able to complete what is known as ‘the last mile’. In turn this means more regular use of the train and reduced use of bus or tram for the onward journey. Four out of every ten business drivers have also reduced use of the car thanks to the availability of bike sharing.

Moreover, bike sharing systems can also help reduce pressure on bicycle parking facilities and uncontrolled bike parking as passengers no longer need a second ‘station bike’ for the onward journey. It is also easier to regulate the parking of shared bikes because they often have to be returned to fixed parking facilities.

Long-term effects

Little is known about the structural nature of the congestion avoidance achieved through bike sharing systems. Nonetheless, it could be suggested in general that people who cycle more often as a rule tend to stick to this behaviour change for longer.

Sustainability effects

The shared bike is an alternative for various types of car or public transport journey, each with a different sustainability effect. If the availability of shared bikes as a means of continuing the journey means that someone opts for the train rather than the car, an average long car journey is replaced. Business passengers who may also leave their car at home for travel between home and work thanks to the availability of 'pool' bikes for their business travel replace both their home-work journeys and their business journeys with a cleaner alternative. Even if the shared bike only replaces an onward journey by bus or tram, a small sustainability effect is nonetheless achieved.

To replace a car journey in the rush hour with a public transport journey, plus onward journey by shared bike, we assume an average journey length for a public transport journey for home-work travel, in the rush hour, of 24 kilometres. For each instance of rush-hour avoidance, on average the following emissions are saved:

Emissions reduction
(savings in kg/instance of rush-hour avoidance)
3.7 0.0026 0.00016

Variables affecting effects

A number of factors influence the effects and scope of shared bikes:

  • The rapid technological developments in the shared bike sector are difficult for governments to keep up with. Market parties often deploy their own products on public roads. To limit the burdens, the government has a regulatory role to play. It is important for governments to first know what position the shared bike can and should be allowed to take up in the city. On that basis, the relevant government body can draw up a regulatory framework, taking account of the desired shared bike structure (back to one, back to many or free floating).
  • An essential precondition for a successful bike sharing system is a good bicycle infrastructure. In other words, the network of bicycle routes must be able to cope with the increasing numbers of cyclists, with space for installing parking stations. Consideration could also be given to alterations to infrastructure that makes cycling in general more attractive. For example fast bike routes, bike bridges and sufficient bike parking spaces at strategic locations.
  • Moreover it is important for bike sharing systems to be made interoperable. This means that users are not required to register with or subscribe to different systems but that a single bike pass grants access to all bike sharing systems. It seems likely that interoperability will have a positive effect on the use of shared bikes.

Costs (including VAT)

The costs for operating a bike sharing system depend heavily on the choice of specific system and the system size. Also important is the role the government chooses to play. The government can for example be the contract-awarding party for the entire system via a tender procedure. On the other hand, it can opt for a concession model or for a more facilitating role, whereby (private) parties can apply for permits to install their own system.

If the government chooses to adopt the role of contract-awarding party, the costs can rise considerably. An inventory in Ghent revealed that the cost price for an intricate bike sharing system with 1,000 bicycles is approximately €1.4 million a year. The total investment costs for a small-scale bike sharing system with hubs amount to €1,200 to €1,800 per bike. As a rule, operating costs of €1,200 per bike per year may be assumed.

Costs can also be influenced by the characteristics of the project. The dependencies relate for example to the role and responsibilities adopted by the authority in question and the number of infrastructure changes that have to be made. At present there are individual pilot projects involving bike sharing systems in many cities, but few cities operate a well-integrated bike sharing system. In certain cities, market parties themselves are responsible for the pilot projects while in others the municipal authorities are heavily involved.

The authority in question can take a series of steps to implement bike sharing systems in the cities. Firstly, the authority must set its policy objectives in respect of bike sharing. Then it must select the most suitable system. In this respect, the authority can take on a number of roles, from regulatory and coordinating to administering the tendering procedure, or merely as the owner of the land. In addition, a number of infrastructural adjustments are required, such as sufficient bicycle parking facilities and regulation of the unhindered growth of bikes that can be left anywhere.

More information

See www.fietsberaad.nl

Sources consulted

  1. CROW (2017) Kopgroep huur- en deelfietsinitiatieven rapportage
  2. Cyclists union (2010) Hoe bevalt de OV-fiets? Klantenonderzoek 2009
  3. MINT (2014). Introductie van publieke fijnmazige fietsdeelsystemen in de Vlaamse centrumsteden
  4. Berenschot (2016) Financiering fietsopgaven Tour de Force
  5. Hendriks, R. (2016) De deelfiets gaat snel doorbreken in Nederland. In Fietsverkeer, issue 2009
  6. NS (2017) Wederom grote groei in aantal ritten met de OV-fiets
  7. Zessen, van, P.C. (2017) De deelfiets in Nederland (Shared bikes in the Netherands). Over de potentie van de deelfiets in Nederland en de ruimtelijke effecten van de deelfiets in de stad

Rules of thumb

  • Effect on accessibility: 0.1-0.6 rush-hour journeys per day avoided
  • Effect on sustainability: reduction of 3.7 kg of CO₂ per instance of rush-hour avoidance
  • Costs: €1,200-€1,800 per bike (exc. costs of operation)