As urbanization and modernization reach unprecedented levels, road congestion has become a modern day menace. Heavy traffic is associated with air pollution, safety risks, and losses in terms of accessibility, economic competitiveness, sustainable growth and social cohesion. If we are determined to make our cities attractive and sustainable, we must respond to these challenges.
There are a number of measures available to address this problem; either by restricting conventional car use, or providing viable alternatives. None of these solutions is more up-and-coming and marketable right now than the shared use of mobility resources – for example, car sharing. And none of them more environmentally friendly than cycling, which more and more people see as a realistic way of making shorter trips.
Put these two together, and you get bike sharing: an innovation that combines the best qualities of both solutions, while extending the reach and scope of public transport. To be clear, bike sharing refers to rental schemes, whereby civilians can pick up, ride and drop off bicycles at numerous points across the city – usually at automated stations.
The benefits of bike sharing
The benefits of bike sharing schemes include transport flexibility, reductions to vehicle emissions, health benefits, reduced congestion and fuel consumption, and financial savings for individuals.
But the most special quality of public bicycles is the idea of sharing. By sharing with others through a publicly available scheme, individuals can use bicycles on an “as-needed” basis, without the costs and responsibilities associated with ownership. In doing so, these schemes allow people who may not otherwise use bicycles, to enjoy the benefits of cycling; whether they’re tourists or locals.
Bike sharing schemes can also act as a door opener for increased bicycle use, by making a strong visual statement that bicycles do belong to a city’s streets.
What’s more, other studies report that cycling increased in cities which implemented bike sharing schemes, noting that these results reflect the combined impact of improvements to cycling facilities, as well as the provision of bike sharing schemes. Some go even further by suggesting that the introduction of bike sharing systems can cause cycling to be seen as a safe and normal mode of transport, in contexts where it’s not common.
Despite these difficulties, bike sharing schemes are, on the whole, a win for everyone. Rebranding something as conventional as urban cycling in a way that embraces the philosophy of shared resource economies and is well accepted by the public is a timely investment for actively promoting sustainable transportation. Cities that come up with strong and coherent plans will find that recognizable bike sharing schemes can form a powerful and positive part of their image. Meanwhile, civilians of all stripes stand to benefit from clearer roads and cleaner air – whether they cycle or not.