Community bicycle programs (also known as Yellow bicycle programs, White bicycle programs, bike sharing, public bike or free bike) are one element of an international movement to build environmentally friendly transportation.
Community programs appear in all shapes and sizes in cities throughout the world. The central concept is free (or nearly free) access to bicycles for inner-city transport. The goal is to reduce the use of automobiles for short trips inside the city and diminish traffic congestion, noise and air-pollution. Another goal is to reduce thefts of privately owned bicycles.
Only a few American cities, including Washington D.C., Chapel Hill/Carrboro, NC, and Ft. Collins, CO have such programs.
The bikes can be returned at any station in the system, which facilitates one way rides to work, education or shopping centres. Thus, one bike may take 10-15 rides a day with different users and can be ridden up to 10,000 km (6000 miles) a year (this figure from the city of Lyon, France). The distance between stations is 300-400 m (1000-1300 feet) in inner city areas.
Community bicycle programs without user electronic identification struggle against theft and vandalism. In one program tried in 1993 in Cambridge, United Kingdom, all 300 bicycles were stolen on the first day of operation, and the program was abandoned.
In many community bicycle programs, each bicycle is painted yellow, white, or another solid colour. This is usually done for two primary reasons. First, as a fleet of coloured bicycles begin to appear around the city, it helps to get the word out about the program. Secondly, many programs paint over the brand name and other distinguishing features of the bicycle, some even going so far as to paint every component such as the pedals, shifters, and wheels. This is very helpful in deterring theft since the painted bicycle has little resale value.
Most of the more successful programs have designed their own bike with singular designs of frame and other parts to prevent disassembly and resale of stolen parts.
In Amsterdam, the police were concerned about the possible theft of white bicycles, so a municipal ordinance was passed, requiring every bicycle in the city to be equipped with a lock. Within a week, every white bicycle sported a combination lock, with the combination painted legibly on the lock. It is not known whether any of these bicycles were stolen; it is not clear what the term "stolen" would mean in this context.
Advantages of long term use, or the Library Bike model, include a familiarity the rider gets with their bicycle, a mode of travel that is ready for the borrower at any time during the months of use. The bicycle can be checked out like a library book, a liability waiver can be collected at check out, and the bike can be returned anytime. A Library Bike in a person's possession can be chosen for some trips instead of a car, thus lowering car usage. This model requires less repair as the users tend to care for the bikes as their own.
Several European cities, including the French cities of Lyon and Paris as well as London, Barcelona and Stockholm, have signed contracts with private advertising agencies that supply the city with thousands of bicycles free of charge (or for a minor fee) for the city. In return, the agencies are allowed to advertise both on the bikes themselves and on other select locations in the city. These programs also prevent theft by requiring users to pre-purchase user cards with credit cards and by equipping the bike with complex anti-theft and bike maintenance sensors. In case of not returning the bike within a day, the bike sharing operator is allowed to withdraw money from the given credit card account.
In a national-level programme which combines a typical rental system with several of the above system types, a passenger railway operator or infrastructure manager partners with a national cycling organisation and others to create a system closely connected with public transport. These programs allow usually for a longer rental time of up to 24 or 48 hours and as well for tourist and round trips. See OV Fiets for more information (in Dutch with English summary) or Call a Bike in Germany .
In some German cities, the national rail company Deutsche Bahn offers a convenient bike rental service: "Call a Bike". The Call a Bike principle is very simple, the bikes are locked electronically and again left in the open at widely distributed locations. A potential user phones an operator with the number of the bike he or she wishes to use. The operator confirms the customer's account details and tells the customer a number code that opens the lock. If desired, billing can be done directly to the users mobile phone account. The more recent Stuttgart operation requires bikes to be returned to defined locations as the users' choice of places to leave bikes off-hire can occasionally provide an opportunity to 'hide' a bike for your return trip. Bikes are also being locked to the Velib stands in Paris because no system can yet offer the option of reserving a bike for a return journey, and balancing flows can give problems as at Montmartre where special measures are needed to get bikes back to hire points at the top of the hill.
The City of Copenhagen launched a major bike share program in May 1995 called ByCyklen - City Bikes. This was the first large-scale urban bike share program featuring specially-designed bikes with parts that cannot be used on other bikes. The bikes operate on a returnable coin system. The program is financed through advertisting on the wheels of the bikes. This model of community bike has spread to many other cities.
One of the first community bicycle projects in the United States was started in Portland, Oregon in 1994 by civic and environmental activists Tom O'Keefe, Joe Keating and Steve Gunther. It took the approach of simply releasing a number of bicycles to the streets for un-restricted use. Portland's Yellow Bike Project was an amazing publicity success, but proved unsustainable initially due to theft and vandalism of the bicycles. The program was later revised to operate under a more restrictive system. Since then many community projects around the country have attempted similar models and met with varying degrees of success.
In Charleston, WV, a joint ministry of St. John's Episcopal Church, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Mountain State Wheelers bicycle club is 'Spokes4Folks', which collects used bicycles, refurbishes them, and then distributes them to clients at the Manna Meals Soup Kitchen two or three times per year. They are considering expanding their services to include encouragement of bicycle-based entrepreneurship and bicycle-related youth development services.
Madison, WI had a program where specific bicycles, always painted red, were available for the use of anyone coming across them on the street (especially used on State Street between the UW campus and the capitol). The only rule regarding their use was that they were always to remain outside and unlocked for any passerby to use. This program (called Red Bikes) has since been modified to include deposits for the bicycle and a lock and is only available from spring (when all snow has melted) to November 30.
Montreal will begin a city-wide rollout of rental bicycles in 2008, in an effort to encourage locals and tourists to make use of the city's already well-established network of bike paths. The rental bicycles will be available from depots located throughout the city, where bikes can be rented from automated stations using a credit card. The Public Bike System - as the official municipal entity will be known - estimates that by 2009, 2,400 bicycles will be deployed at 300 depots throughout the metro area.
Waving waivers good-bye: is your parental liability waiver unenforceable? Recent court decisions out of Michigan indicate that waivers may no longer hold up in court.(SPECIAL REPORT: DISABILITY)
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