1. History of Public Bicycle Systems

While bicycle sharing systems have been around since the Witte Fietsenplan (White Bicycle Plan) experiment of 1960’s Amsterdam, attributed to Luud Schimmelpenninck and the Provo counterculture movement, the chances of real success at a city level or as a reliable form of public transport came with fully-automated, subscription-based systems, coined “3rd generation”. Most experts see Vélib’ in Paris as the tipping point of successful city-wide PBS. Although other systems in France were up and running with plans similar to that of Vélib’ by its launch in 2007, Paris’s reputation as one of the great cities of the world, the size of the PBS and system attributes and the continuing success has proved that bike sharing can work in almost any city in the world.

The tables below illustrate some of the aspects of the ‘History of Bicycle Sharing’ chapter in the book Bicycle Sharing 101: Getting the Wheels Turning. They are meant to be viewed in the context of reading that chapter. 

PLEASE CONTRIBUTE YOUR PEER REVIEW of this chapter. If you are an industry expert who has read the book, we would value your feedback.

FIG 1: The table below summarises the key aspects of PBS evolution.
1st generation 2nd generation 3rd generation 4th (?)generation
☐ Unregulated
☐ Bicycles painted a similar, distinguishing color
☐ No stations or parking areas so bicycles can be left anywhere
☐ Standardized bicycles with unique parts
☐ Bicycles kept at stations with mechanized locking systems around city
☐ Coin-deposit system used for checkout/in
☐ Use of smart card tracks user’s identity, bicycles they use, origin and destination and other data
☐ Service is fully automated with real-time info flow
☐ Pricing structure encourages short trips
☐ Solar-powered, modular stations that require no excavation
☐ Smart-card integration with other transportation modes
☐ Tech advances, eg GPS tracking, touch-screen kiosks, electric bikes, dynamic advertising


☐ Free bicycles allow access and ease to a new latent group of riders
☐ Like-colored bicycles help to identify and promote the program and begin to give uniformity to the fleet
☐ Standardized bicycles with uniform and proprietary parts make maintenance easier and more cost-efficient
☐ Stations give users a clear idea of where to find bicycles, and keep system tidier
☐ Advertising on bicycles creates revenue stream to help offset operating costs
☐ Identity tracking provides accountability and security from theft
☐ Real-time information flow provides useful data to users and operator, increasing system optimization
☐ Automation brings uniformity of service, limits human error
☐ No excavation means installation cost decreases
☐ Solar power has environmental benefits and allows greater flexibility in station placement
☐ Tech advances, eg GPS tracking and real-time mapping, aid redistribution


☐ Impossible to predict redistribution ☐ No locking mechanism to secure bicycles☐ No way to link identity of user to that of a bicycle

☐ Bicycles can be left anywhere so the supply of bicycles to user is unreliable

☐ Anonymity of the user and low deposit means theft and abuse are still problems☐ No incentive to return the bicycle in a timely manner so trips/bicycle/day are low (a low utility of a public asset) ☐ Higher initial capital cost investment because of hardware and software costs ☐ Stations are not a permanent part of the urban landscape
FIG 2: The table below summarises the key differences between bicycle sharing and rental. Adapted from a presentation by Peter Dalos of COWI Hungary Consulting and Planning Ltd.
Customer base Transport oriented Recreational cyclist
Revenue Advertising, sponsorship, government subsidy, annual & temporary subscriptions User fees
Pricing model Encourages short trips Encourages long-term rental
Bicycle design Utilitarian Recreational
Accessibility 24/7. Fully automated Normal working hours
One-way trip availability Yes No
Financing Public Private Partnership Private
Automation Fully automated check-in/out Customer service representative required
FIG 3: The table below summarizes the key direct and indirect benefits of bicycle sharing.
DIRECT BENEFITS  ☐ Maximizes resources: more trips per bicycle per day.
 ☐ Convenience for user: access when needed without hassle of ownership, maintenance or storage of a bicycle.
☐ Flexible, tailored, point-to-point Personal Public Transport option.
☐ Efficient and organized use of public space by controlling parking.
☐ Solves the “last mile” problem: acts as a feeder system to other transport options.
*  ☐ Solution for short trips: eases strain on existing public transport systems, decreasing congestion and improving service.
☐ Reduces necessity for private bicycle parking facilities: space is used for the general well-being of a community rather than private parking.
☐ Eases entry into cycling: attracts new or latent users to bicycle use, with consequent benefits associated with increased cycling.
INDIRECT BENEFITS ☐ Provides citizens with a healthy, active transport option for short trips.
☐ Decrease in tailpipe emissions and noise pollution.
☐ Solves the “chicken-and-egg” scenario by providing users to justify investment into supporting bicycle infrastructure.
☐ Improves cycling safety: more cyclists means more awareness by motorists.
☐ Increases property values through TOD and fosters urban revitalization.
☐ Improves city’s image in terms of “sustainability” and “livability.”