Bicycle sharing is a fairly new concept, the basis of which is to make bikes readily available, either free of charge or for a fee, mainly for the purpose of transportation. Most bike-share programs being self-service; this trend began with the launch of the free bicycle-sharing program in La Rochelle, France in 1974 where 350 yellow bicycles were deployed and could be borrowed at one of three downtown stations. Following this example, other self-serve bike-share systems began cropping up throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
The idea behind bike sharing appears to be an extension of auto-share programs to bicycles. This concept, however, takes on new dimensions when applied to such a simple and economical means of transportation. The investment required is significantly less and thus, has allowed many municipalities to offer free bicycles to their citizens. An extension of the bicycle-share concept involves the placement of bicycle stations at a maximum of points throughout the city. Ideally, the users then return the bikes to a station located at the end of their trip and can rest assured that a bike will be available at this station for their return trip. One of the most famous and long-standing systems is Copenhagen’s Bycyklen (or City Bike), initiated by Morten Sadolin, Wessung Ole and Niels Christiansen.
The concept of bike sharing facilitates an alternative to cars for in-city transportation by making bicycles available, 24 hours a day, at strategically placed stations throughout the city.
The use of shared bikes for transportation contributes to the overall reduction in the use of motorized vehicles and the increase in the bicycle modal share. Thus, public bicycle networks are part of the strategy to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, pollutant emissions and greenhouse gases. In addition, bike sharing is a way to encourage people to increase their physical activity, therefore helping to fight obesity and cardiovascular disease.
The bike-sharing concept has been put into place in many European cities and, more recently, in North American cities, including Washington, DC and Montreal.