The primary advantage of bike sharing systems is that they remove the risk of theft or vandalism and maintenance costs from the rider, and increase parking options. By putting more bikes on the road, on hence reducing the number of cars, many of the larger schemes have also resulted in an increase in the frequency of cycling in private owners. This can be seen to be a result of cycling becoming safer once a road network has a higher number of bicycle users, and as a result of a change of culture and perception of cycling amongst the general population and car users.
Some of the earliest examples of public bike sharing originated in the 1960s, and provided bikes completely free of charge to the general public. These trailblazers often encountered high rates of theft and vandalism; although many of them were discontinued, they helped inform future proponents of similar systems.
The most recent generation of bike sharing schemes operate in some of Europe’s largest cities, and use a number of techniques and technological innovations to help pay for the service; examples of this type can be seen in Copenhagen, Helsinki, Paris, Brussels, London and elsewhere. The schemes typically use specially-designed bikes with a highly recognisable design and parts that could not be used on other bikes. These bikes are less attractive to thieves as their parts cannot be cannibalised and transferred to other bikes. The schemes are often also used to provide advertising space, which is sold to sponsors in order to raise revenue.
Some of the more recent schemes employ smart technology, to further reduce the frequency of theft and vandalism. Vélib’ in Paris, with some 20,600 bicycles, 1,450 bike stations and number of daily uses ranging between 50,000 to 150,000, is the world’s largest bike share system. The system makes use of technology such electronic docking stations, smart cards, and onboard computers.User normally take out a subscription, trips lasting less than 30 minutes are free, and the usage fee increases exponentially thereafter. This increasing price scale is intended to keep the bikes in circulation. The bike share system in London is one of the most recent. It is hoped that the scheme will be the only part of Transport for London’s operations to be fully self-funding. The scheme is largely modeled on the Paris system, but uses a number of cutting edge innovations, including zero-emission electronic vehicles which move extra bikes to the busiest stations during peak hours and systems which electronically alert operators and customers when a bike is in need of maintenance.