Shared bicycle transit systems

I’ve recently used my first OV-fiets and it was a fantastic experience1. It’s a great way to bridge the last couple of miles on your transit experience and I think an important addition to the public transportation system.

half uur eerder dan de planning
CC picture by Anne Helmond

Paris has its vélib system2 and other major metropolitan cities may have similar bicycle sharing systems, but ov-fiets (literally ‘public transportation bike’) is Netherlands wide and has a great service design backing it up.

The idea is you get a subscription (based on your id and bank account to prevent abuse) for €9,50/year which is hooked up to your rail card so you can use that same card to get your bike. With one card you can get up to two very decent bikes3 at any issuing point (most larger railway stations in the Netherlands and more). Payment is deducted automatically from your bank account, so that eliminates another step from the checkout process which is very quick indeed. At stations which don’t have a large bike facility and for return at night there are also unmanned facilities where you can get a bike from a locker using your secret code.

Automatische fietskluis
CC picture by FaceMePLS

Most importantly for us Dutch, the system is very cheap. Renting one bike for 20 hours costs you €2,85. If you have multiple errands to run in a city, this is cheaper than using public transportation (and you have more freedom and you don’t have to wait for buses). Most people I tell about the system can’t believe how cheap it is. I do hope it is cost effective. I will gladly pay more per ride if it means the system will be around in the future.

OV-fiets is a great solution for me. I visit various cities irregularly. My method of entry, is almost always by train and that part of the journey is usually relatively quick, clear and comfortable. After that part comes the hell of navigating and waiting for local public transportation. There isn’t a city in the Netherlands that can’t be biked around, so a bike —if you have access to one— is almost always preferrable.

This is a great example of our urban future where objects that used to be our property4 are abstracted into a network of services.

San Francisco

An afterthought: When I was in San Francisco last year, I had some appointments in the Valley which I tried to do using Caltrain and then either taking the bus or walking. This turned out to be impossibly time consuming.

I tried to rent a bike to take with me on the Caltrain but most bike rental places were not open as early as I needed them to be. A system where you could rent a bike at the Caltrain stations similar to OV-fiets would have been perfect. (Hint.)

  1. The fact that I used it to bike out to a theater festival in a nature reserve may have contributed to that.
  2. Vélib has an odd pricing system, reflecting its focus on short trips and it has to deal logistically with the motions of Paris’s commuters through the day and the city.
  3. And recently you can get scooters as well.
  4. I used to own a Strida foldable bike.

3 thoughts on “Shared bicycle transit systems”

  1. Cool, I’ll have to consider using it some time. If they expanded the rental points to a few major non-train transport points, such as Dam Square in Amsterdam, then it truly would be comparable to vélib. However, I imagine citing the rental points at train stations, and the plenty of available space there, makes operations much cheaper.

  2. Train stations are the easiest and most common entry point into the city-part of your trip, which is I think a more important factor. If you do the same commute regularly or live in Amsterdam, it will pay to get a bike for yourself.

    I guess Paris is a special case because it’s too big to be bikable so people mix transit inside the city and still need the flexible use of a bicycle whereas in Amsterdam you would do it all by bike. Though nobody is stopping me from taking the tube to Sloterdijk and getting an OV-fiets there.

  3. OV bikes are great. And my boss agrees, and pays my subscription. 😀

    @Peter: de Dam is very close to central station, there is a OV bike point there.

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