Bike-sharing schemes are not new. London’s cycle hire scheme launched in 2010 (now Santander bikes), Velib (Paris) in 2007 and Milan’s BikeMI in 2008. In recent years, this growth has been turbocharged with new business models (like dockless bikes) bringing even more interest to this market.
Covid-19 has dramatically accelerated this trend: we know the benefits of cycling as a green mobility option which can directly help to improve traffic congestion, air quality, noise and safety. In recent weeks, major cities have announced new measures to upgrade their cycling infrastructure in an effort to reduce the pressure on public transport networks. If successfully implemented, these measures could boost the uptake of cycling and permanently change the way we move around cities.
The Greater London Authority leads Sharing Cities, a collaborative European programme of 34 partners across the public, private, and academic sectors. Since 2015, we have been testing smart city technologies, including electric bike schemes, in our three city pilots in Lisbon, Milan, and the Royal Borough of Greenwich in London. In all three cities, we found that electric bikes have helped to lower barriers to active transport by making cycling accessible to more people.
Sharing Cities demonstrates how thoughtfully designed, integrated, open-source solutions can be developed to improve the wellbeing of citizens as well as the sustainability of our cities. The programme has tested technologies ranging from electric and shared mobility schemes, integrated energy management systems, smart street infrastructure, and building retrofit works to improve energy efficiency, and have developed data-sharing platforms that integrate these solutions for increased impact.
Throughout the design and implementation of these technologies, Sharing Cities also developed and applied co-design approaches to ensure that citizens that use these solutions have been engaged from the very beginning.
With electric bike (e-bike) sharing, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and transport and mobility challenges are likely to differ depending on the city context. Yet at the same time, cities do share common characteristics. Our first playbook on e-bike sharing schemes captures the processes and experiences from testing different solutions in different contexts, and the lessons learned along the way.
With the prevalence of privately-run bike schemes rapidly spreading in our cities, it was important for us to show that it is possible to deliver successful government-led models with private sector partners involved. Our implementation framework is geared towards city officers who need to develop better, and more collaborative business models. We hope cities and partners can use this research to reduce barriers, speed up processes and ensure a more consistent approach.
In this playbook we’ve also tried to answer some of the big questions about cycling; for instance, docked versus dockless – which one is better? Do e-bike schemes compete or complement other mobility options? Is my city too big or too small for an e-bike sharing scheme? We’ve looked at the common challenges so that cities don’t repeat the same mistakes and can avoid some of the pitfalls we’ve encountered.
E-bike sharing is meant to improve connectivity and mobility in a city. Yet if we don’t put our citizens’ needs at its heart, future schemes could easily fail.
Culture also plays a big part. A better knowledge of how social norms affect local travel patterns can help us understand the needs of our communities, and enable us to design solutions that are likely to be both successful and supported by local people.
Download the E-bike Sharing playbook here.