Thursday 17 March 2011

Bike share the Dutch way

On the "bike sharing world map" there is one strikingly blank country. You guessed it: the Netherlands. You could think that in a country of 16 million who possess 18 million bikes there would be no need for sharing bikes. But that would be wrong: the Dutch do share bikes and on a large scale.

Since 2007 when Paris first started (after the example of Lyon), every self-respecting modern city seems to have bike share. Milan, Brussels, Bogota, London, Melbourne: some 200 cities worldwide. It is interesting that most of these schemes call itself 'free'. Yes, the first half hour is free, but keep the bike 2 hours and it will cost you 7 euros (Paris) or 6 pounds (London). Keep it even longer and Paris charges you a ridiculous 151 euros for 20 hours! Clearly these programs are designed for short use. For single trips, not round trips. If you have a meeting somewhere in town you can only hope the meeting place has a nearby bike-station too, for the rental fee would cost you dearly after a two hour meeting.

The Dutch have –like so many things to do with cycling- a different approach. Their nation wide program started in 2003*. What the Dutch started was not so much new, it was modernising what had existed in the country for decades. Almost every train station in the Netherlands has manned bike parking facilities and in most of those it has always been possible to hire a bike. But every station had its own way of doing things which took a lot of time and hassle.

In 2008 the national OV-fiets program was taken over by the Dutch Railways*. Literally the name means 'Public Transport bicycle'. That is exactly what it is: an extension of public transport. Trains go almost everywhere in the Netherlands, but they do not get you entirely from A to B. To bridge that final part of your journey this bike scheme is perfect.

The very visible yellow/blue public transport bikes

How does it work

You become a member for 10 euros per year. You get a subscription card with a pin-code or the subscription is directly connected to the card you already possess for train travel. That way you don’t end up with multiple cards in your wallet and it is once more underlining the fact that this is an extension of your train travel. With the card you can hire bicycles. In a manned station you simply present the card. The person manning the bikes scannes your card and the bike you take with you and you are on your way. Takes about 5 seconds. The hire fee is always for a 24 hour period and costs you just 3 euros which is less than a round trip by bus in any Dutch city. You can go where ever you want to go with the bike and you can even take it overnight. It has a lock so you can also park it. This scheme is designed for (longer) round-trips. It expects you to return to the train station to get back to where you initially started your journey.

When you return, the bike gets scanned again and you can continue home by train. If you kept the bike longer, the next 24 hour period costs you 5 euros extra.

There are also un-manned stations where the system works just like any other electronic bike scheme. You swipe your card and enter your pin-code. A bike is electronically released and you take it with you.

The fee for the bike hire is automatically withdrawn from your bank account. A standard payment procedure in the Netherlands and this is arranged when you become a member. You can keep track of your journeys on-line.

The scheme is a success. About 85,000 people are member now. They made 835,000 trips in 2010 alone from one of the 230 bike hire stations that can be found all over the country. The bright yellow/blue bikes (the colours of the Dutch Railways) are very visible in the streets of the Netherlands.

This bike hire scheme is really designed for residents, as it involves a membership that has to be arranged in advance. But for tourists other bikes can be rented from almost every train station too.

About 230 rental stations all over the country
I have had a subscription for OV-fiets for two years now. And it is wonderful, it really gets you to many more destinations. I have found myself cycling in places where I had never cycled before. What I like best is that with one subscription you can hire two bikes. So when you are on a journey with a friend you can both cycle to the end-destination together.

Shared bikes can be very convenient on a personal level. But they can never be an important factor in mode share. For that you need people riding their own bicycles.

* Update: Initially I stated the program started in 2008 but that turned out to be incorrect. The facts are as stated now.

Some figures:
YearLocations Subcriptions Bikes Rides


Will said...

That's a really brilliant system! The transit in my area (either city busses or regional rail lines) leave a lot to be desired; most significantly, the busses and trains can't always get you where you want to be. Bicycle rentals at the stations and stops would be a huge help.

Klaus Mohn said...

Just a note, and I say that as a Parisian: Lyon was really the first city out of the gate with the 2.0 bikeshare (as opposed to the old-school systems or A'msterdam's white bikes). Vélo'v was the real proof of concept - Paris scaled it up, but not dramatically given the two cities' relative sizes. It drives the Lyonnais really mad when people don't acknowledge that, just like they feel like they're the ignored gastronomic capital of the world.

Slow Factory said...

Not an important factor in mode share? I thought that many or most OV Fiets journeys are "on the other side of the train" with your owned bike being on the first side. Since there is no space to take many bikes on trains and it costs double the price of OV Fiets, it becomes a mirror journey of many owned bike trips, and thus a very important factor in mode share, if in a different way than is considered in this posting.

Well-integrated public(ish) bike schemes can function similarly anywhere.

Mark W. said...

@G.I.F. Many Dutch (including myself) already have a bike (their own) on the other side of the train. That is: for their regular commute. This scheme is really for the end of journey trips in cities that you don't regularly visit. It then comes in the place of walking or taking the bus. What I meant by that remark is that shared bikes allone will not get modal share up.

amoeba said...

Damn! Not only are the Dutch far ahead of us in the UK in ways we understood. They are even further ahead of us than we realised!

The real trouble with the Dutch is they're too modest. Just consider the hyperbole emanating from TfL regarding the terribly expensive but appallingly ineffectual Boris Bike scheme and then imagine how cock-a-hoop we'd be if the roles were reversed.

Yes the Dutch problem is excessive modesty.

Frits B said...

@Amoeba: It's not modesty. Our main problem is we always know best, and since that is so obvious, there is no need to brag about it. Simple comme bonjour :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm a long-time user of the scheme (member ID in the mid-1000s) and I love it dearly, but it does have its deficiencies:

• Prices have gone up by more than inflation, probably because scheme threatened to become a victim of its own success. The membership price of €7.50 and rental price of €2.50 have gone to €10 and €3, respectively, in a few years. Perks like a monthly price cap and being able to return a bike at an alternate location cheaply have vanished, too.
• As a result, returning a bike at an alternate location is now prohibitively expensive (€10 on top of the €3 rental fee). If you're not intending to return the same way you came, you're better off bringing your own bike on the train (€6).
• Opening hours at minor stations are not great. The parking facility at Driebergen-Zeist, a starting point for many recreational rides (there's a tourist information centre in the station itself!) only opens on weekdays. This is being remedied by improved opening hours at train station parking in general (they're aiming for opening hours covering every daytime train) and unattended lockers, but improvement is slow.
• If there's an event of some sort being held near the station you want to hire a bike at, chances are they're all gone, especially if it draws a particular kind of audience. Sports or student events in particular seem to do it.

You neglected to mention one of the major upsides of the scheme relative to London and Paris: it brings in serious revenue and doesn't cost much to the operator. From the London statistics I've seen, most people only use it for short (free) rides, and moving the bikes back and forth between the docking stations is expensive (not to mention the cost of building and maintaining the docking stations themselves). If the majority of the rides in London is free, it effectively becomes a cheap (£45 a year) subsidised maintenance-free bike for affluent Londoners, most of whom already own a bike.

Mark W. said...

I have updated the post. I mistakenly mentioned the year of takeover as the year of starting. Turns out the program is 5 years older than I initially stated.

@Klaus I mentioned Lyon too now.

@Anonymous. The price went up but so did the rental time. €2.85 for 20 hours went to €3.00 for 24hrs. I still think the scheme is reasonably priced compared to other prices, like for the bus.
The popularity is indeed a problem. But that is the same for any shared bike system.

Anonymous said...

Mark: The €2.50 → €2.85 increase also came with a benefit: the ability to rent two bikes at once.

And I'm not convinced about it being cheaper than a bus fare: Utrecht Centraal to Oorsprongpark (about half an hour's walk so a distance for which OV-Fiets or the bus would be competitive) costs €1.11 by bus, so €2.22 for a return. I'd still choose the bike as it's more flexible and more fun and certainly worth the extra 78 cents, but it isn't always cheaper.

Slow Factory said...

@Mark: Thanks. I thought the system was meant to replace owned bikes on the other side, as a way to reduce bike parking pressures.

Another thing I like about it is that the bikes are normal and very simple (no gears, just a coaster brake) BUT also - unlike probably all bike share - a normal rear rack which I assume gets used for detachable bags or "one-handed beer cases". However, is it a little small for most butts?

Kevin Love said...

The last time that I was in The Netherlands was 2006. As a veteran of The Royal Regiment of Canada, I visited the Holten Military Cemetary where so many of our dear comrades lie buried. Regretfully, there was no public transit or bike rental scheme available at the train station at that time, so I had to walk.

It was a very pleasant walk, but rest assured, if it was available, I would have rented a bike.

That's just one example of the bike getting someone the last few km, because there can't be a train station everywhere.

David Hembrow said...

Kevin: The station at Houten is being hugely upgraded. I think it was a bit more primitive than average before.

Frits B said...

@David: Holten is not Houten. It's a village in Overijssel near the Holterberg where there is a large Canadian war cemetary. And it's one of those places not too well covered by public transport.

Ma said...

Kevin was talking about Holten in Overijssel, not Houten. It seems to be about a kilometre's walk from a weekend-only bus route, or else Holten station now has bike hire during the daytime Monday-Saturday.

Matt Nicholas said...

Kevin was talking about Holten in Overijssel, not Houten. It seems to be about a kilometre's walk from a weekend-only bus route through the forests, or else Holten station now has bike hire during the daytime Monday-Saturday.

Theo Z said...

An up to date map is from the 'Fietsersbond' at:

Somehow the map opens with the POI (Places of Interest) 'OV fiets verhuurlocaties' already selected.
You can zoom in, so that you can see that Groningen has two locations for hiring a bike.

Mark W. said...

@David; Kevin really meant Holten (Overijssel), not Houten (Utrecht). And Kevin, I just checked. Holten station does indeed have rental bikes now.

David Hembrow said...

Kevin, and those who corrected me: Sorry about the confusion with Houten !

inconvenient_truth said...

The hire scheme we set up in Darlington (primarily dutch bikes, by the way) following the making of Beauty and the Bike is also aimed at residents. The charge is£20 a month, or £10 a month for teenagers. The aim is to encourage people to get into the habit, and ultimately buy their own bikes.

But it's run by a small community organisation, has little funding, so the model tends to be ignored by the "big boys" in cities and in government. As a way of running a bike hire scheme, it's cheap and accessible to local people.

Buit as David says, as a vehicle for changing modal share, it's pretty useless. What holds most people back from cycling on dutch bikes is the lack of good quality infrastructure. UK politicians will do anything -including funding big expensive bike hire schemes - to avoid doing what's really needed.

Daniel Sparing said...

The second and the third 24 hours still only cost 3 euros.

I paid way more for my 1.5 hour trip on the London "cycles".