For many people, cycling in London is synonymous with Boris bikes, but the first urban bike sharing concept, unsurprisingly, originated in the Netherlands. The White Bicycle Plan, or ‘Witte Fietsenplan’, consisted of painting bicycles white, and leaving them around the city for public use. This was carried out unlawfully by the Dutch countercultural group ‘Provo’, who started with 50 white bikes, which were then impounded by the police as they were left unlocked. Perhaps it was this failed social experiment that means today the Netherlands doesn’t have a bike sharing scheme as such, but instead has what are known as public transport bicycles, allowing you to make an extension of your public transport journey with a shared cycle.
This is called the OV-fiets program, a subtle measure that helps people make that final part of their journey or commute, and is run by the Dutch Railways. The advantages of this over a shared bike scheme are quite clear, as the bikes are available at train stations, bus and metro stops, a few city centres and also at certain car parks. They are ready right at the point of requirement, and can often be used with integrated tickets. This represents a more cohesive way of moving in which different modes of transport are tied together.
David Hembrow argues that large bike sharing schemes are what cities install if they want to give off the appearance of being interested in cycling without investing in the infrastructural change which is necessary to make a real difference’, and cites the iconic nature of Boris bikes as a way of creating a tourist-friendly image, without any significant investment. One might look to Copenhagen again as an example. In this case the shared bike scheme serves more as a backup, in case of flat tyres, or for tourists. This is because the door-to-door infrastructure system is so complete and cohesive that using your own bike is a pleasant experience.
Shared bike schemes, therefore, might be seen as a stepping stone on the journey to a more complete, and integrated transport infrastructure. They help raise the profile of cycling and create an interest, but once cycling becomes the dominant force of transport in a city, then shared bike schemes become more of a backup. The issue with this however, is that because of the lack of complete infrastructure and safety at the time of the rise in cycling levels, accidents are likely to rise in check with usage. In order to prevent this happening the docks must be firmly linked into a complete pre-existing network. A map of shared bike stations in London reveals docks isolated in areas that are not cycle-friendly, and at times little consideration appears to be granted to how cyclists might arrive and depart from these islands.