[insert name here] Cycle Hire

It was just announced that Barclays will not continue the sponsorship of Barclays Cycle Hire. And why should they? They got a pretty big bang for their buck and with the system likely to expand I wouldn’t put it past the city of London to hit them up for more money than they previously invested.

So what does London do now? The elasticity of sponsorship deals for bicycle sharing schemes has always been a topic in the back of my mind. If New York and London can pull it off, what about lesser known cities like Minneapolis? But this is a different situation. How will the value of a bicycle sharing system increase or decrease over time (and sponsors).

What London does next will write a new chapter in the book of funding bicycle sharing systems. Will they be able to find another sponsor? Is the system still worth what it was worth to Barclays or has it been labeled ‘used goods’?

If I were at the helm, I would look to stadiums and sports teams. Find the people who manage those sponsorship deals and hire them to guide the process.

Bicycle Sharing – Bandung Style

I’ve been working almost exclusively in bicycle sharing for about three years now and on and off for the last 5. I’ve come to think of the IT interface, RFID chips and real-time information flow as the norm, not the exception. What’s taken bicycle sharing from a nitch social experiment and turned it into an urban mainstay does not even excite me anymore, I actually avoid the topic at cocktail parties (almost as much as I avoid cocktail parties). That’s not to say I don’t love what I do!
I was recently working in Jakarta on setting up a fully-automated pretty size-able third generation bicycle sharing system;  This system is intended to showcase Asian bicycle sharing best practices in a city that most would say is as probable to have a bicycle sharing system as the moon.

While working in Jakarta, I had the opportunity to take a day trip to Bandung. What I saw in Bandung taught me something. Not something that will work in Jakarta but something that can work in other communities. A community based bicycle sharing system that works. Bandung is an oasis outside of Jakarta that is a breeding ground of the arts and innovation. It has a different feeling. Overrun by Jakartans on the weekend and holidays or “a victim of our own tourism”, Bandung has soft and sensitive side that is not seen in Jakarta. What’s happening there is a bicycle sharing program that defies almost every rule of my ‘how to’ cocktail.

Initiated by Ridwan Kamil who started our conversation with the comment that, ‘the city officials have no vision’ – I like this guy already. Mr. Kamil has single-handedly started a small modest 2nd generation community bicycle sharing system. He has brought together the community and scrounged up some bicycles that were left over from a conference, lobbied his Alma Mater to finance the stations, borrowed electricity and even got permission from the city who put up more obstacles than there are motorcycles in Jakarta.
IMG_7056What you have is a bicycle sharing scheme that caters to mostly recreational users, but also some commuters. A large amount of the bicycles are used daily and almost all are rented out on the weekend. While Mr. Kamil would love to see a 3rd generation, fully automated system he has first hand experience in how difficult it is to get the one key ingredient – political support.

Personalized Public Transport

While writing a book on bicycle sharing systems, I stumbled across a need for a term to describe the concept of public vehicle sharing. I was left with a void and in that void I came up with a term that needs further development and revision but could be of importance in the discipline of public transport. Bicycle and car sharing have some very unique aspects that lend themselves to not quite fit into traditional public transport hierarchy. I therefore came up with the term “personalized public transport”. Like any rational human being, I Googled it. Not much came up. So in an attempt to define it in my own mind and see if there is merit in it I’m attempting to make a Wikipedia entry for it and asked some colleagues to give input.

My definition of Personal Public Transport (PPT) is a network of vehicles throughout an area available to the general public in which a user has the ability to determine the route and schedule on a self service basis. The pricing model of PPT encourages short trips over revenue.

Some key aspects of PPT are:

  1. Vehicles cater to an individual or small group, are self driven or directed and designed for a single trip
  2. Various locations to pick-up and drop-off the vehicle in a defined coverage area
  3. Pricing model encourages short trips over revenue
  4. Vehicles are readily available at any (opening hours) time and routes can be chosen by the user

Cape Town’s My Citi Cycleway

On a 16°C windless sunny morning, one that any commuting cyclist would die for, one would expect the segregated cycleways below the Woodstock MyCiti and train station to be packed. What I found was quite the contrary. I sat on the bridge and did counts from 7am to 9am – morning peak. Here’s what I found:

Inbound Outbound Men Women
7:00 – 7:30 14 2 15 1
7:30 – 8:00 6 0 5 1
8:00 – 8:30 6 6 11 1
8:30 – 9:00 2 2 4 0

India’s Tipping Point

Cycle sharing in India is on the verge of exploding in terms of the number of cities looking to implement it. Both for-profit and governmental bodies are looking at models that will work in that country. I was privileged to be invited there in November of 2011 by ITDP to work on cycle sharing ­- working at a national level, as part of a team creating a policy document for national funding, as well as at the municipal level with various cities. What I experienced was reminiscent of the China I experienced when working there in 2008.

The concerns for safety and the image of cycling being only for the poor are probably the largest concerns in India right now. Similar concerns have been echoed globally by skeptics, but it’s important for India to go down the same path as other societies have, and to build a model that will work in the Indian context.

While various attempts at cycle sharing have been made, most lack the basic concept of bicycle sharing (confusing it with bicycle rental), the technology that makes 3rd generations systems a success, or the coverage area to account for more than a small pilot project. But the lack of existing systems did not deter the Urban Mobility India Conference in Delhi from holding a session on bicycle sharing which was well attended with quite vocally-opinionated stances on whether cycle sharing is needed and how it would succeed in India.

But the wheels are turning (pun intended). Cycle Chalao has won a tender in the city of Pune to put a pretty decent-sized system in place. While the contract lacks two key component of successful cycle sharing systems globally, stipulation of full automation and payment according to service levels, it does allow leeway for a robust system to be installed and showcase cycle sharing’s potential in a large Indian city.

South of Pune, Kerberon has set up shop in Bangalore with a few stations in what looks like the beginnings of a well designed 3rd generation cycle sharing system using an advertising-based operational model.Chris Kost - ITDP India

India is at the tipping point. If cycle sharing is planned and implemented well in the first few cities who truly adopt it, there is little reason it could not take off. Indian cycling is historically a poor man’s way to travel but a new emerging higher-class recreational cycling effort that is seen in many cities can give cycling the image facelift it needs to become an acceptable way to travel.

It is up to local governments to educate themselves on best practices of bicycle sharing globally and to apply them to the Indian context.  Through our discussions with local manufacturers, we found there was interest and ability to design and supply the ideal bicycles, stations, terminals, docks and technology needed to make cycle sharing a success. Putting the package together seems very plausible.

The Magic of Malawi – BikeTown Africa Bike Build 2010

Local ‘spaza’ shop in Malawi


One very early morning, a cup of coffee, a bloody Mary and three airports later we arrive in Lilongwe, Malawi, Africa. “Reason for entry to country?” I jot down on the funny yellow piece of paper that we are here to do a bike donation for BikeTown Africa. Of course, this reason does not ‘fly’ so well with the official at Customs. “How many days do you want?” I respond, seven days please and put on my best Sunday smile. Finally after a few minutes of explaining and a joking promise of a bike donation to the official, we are legally allowed into Malawi, with a warm inviting smile.

As we are driving to our hotel in what seems to be a brand new UNICEF double cab ‘bakkie’, I realize that Malawi feels strangely familiar. Not knowing what to expect of this adventure, I felt completely foreign, yet comfortable and a sense of home in the dusty hot air. The landscape reminds me of a non-existent place between Mid-Rand and Pretoria in South Africa. The areas are vast and spread out here. Fresh lilac flowers of the Jacaranda trees in bloom give me a sense of comfort and hope of rain. Many farmers in the rural areas are waiting for the rains to help them feed their families and to generate some income.

The warm heart of Africa, this is what Malawi is referred to, partly because it’s so hot here but mainly because the Malawians are such a genuinely friendly nation, they are real people with real problems but this is no discouragement to them. Your smile is always returned and no matter how frustrating a situation may get, one smile can turn it all around, even if it’s someone else’s. There is a sense of innocence and purity about these finely featured and small in stature people, they have respect for one another and yet most live in total poverty. With the better part of the population under 20 years of age, it makes you wonder and grateful for things you previously took for granted.

A bicycle can serve as more than simply a mode of transport

But back to our reason for entry, the bike donation and the Baylor Pediatric Hospital. The Baylor Hospital is jaw-droppingly impressive. It looks brand new every day I see it. Clean, professional and with a collection of local art that anyone would envy. It is equipped with its own laboratory and functions completely independently from government. All the medicine, re hydration salts, food supplements etc are given to the patients for free, ‘mahala’, nothing. The Doctors who work there are primarily from the US as the hospital does not want to take local doctors away from an already impoverished/malnourished health care system. It was truly amazing to meet these saint like and highly qualified doctors. It was an honor to see what they are doing for expecting mothers, children and infants alike.

Grandmother and children

However, what about the rest of the community, as I mentioned, the areas are vast and extremely spread out…? This is where the Tingathe Outreach Program came into being, providing trained Community Health Care workers who visit the families in sadly rural areas, these families do not have wealth or health to travel to the hospital on a regular basis. They also do door to door HIV/AIDS testing and provide the required drugs. This is truly a system which works; it was well thought out, properly prepared and implemented with care. Where do bicycles fit into the equation? The Health Care workers use them to get to their patients, they can reach up to 3 times more people in one day, which means saving lives slowly and prolonging life expectancy.

BikeTown Team arriving in our first rural town

BikeTown Africa flourishes from giving to a project which truly works. Knowing that it is sustainable, knowing that the bicycles will be put to good use. That is what makes this such a respectable development program. Before the donated Kona Africabikes can be put to work in various areas of Lilongwe, we have to assemble them. 117 bicycles were unboxed, greased appropriately, front wheeled, bolted, retightened, quality control checked and ridden in just 3 days! The elegant yet almost bomb-proof bikes were built with the help of 21 volunteers and the odd lending a hand or passing-the-correct-tool-assistance of passing nurses or hospital admin staff. Many curious faces appeared as the completed bikes started piling up at the end of the hospital parking lot. The knowing that these HCW have so little and yet they give so much is painful yet inspiring.  On the last day we traveled along a bumpy, long dusty road to area 24 (everything is divided into areas here, and they don’t necessarily follow consecutively). This is an eye opening experience, accompanied by 2 of the health care workers; we were invited to meet some of their patients. Walking up to the first house you notice that white people are not seen here as we collect a number of curious stares and greetings. There are a few tiny mud-brick houses around, no electricity and water needs to be pumped from the nearest pump which is a few kilometers away.  The mother of the house and 5 children tells us how much the Tingathe Program and Baylor has assisted her, she can’t speak any English but Martha, one of the HCW is happy to translate. The bicycles show the community that things are getting done and that there is improvement.

Joyful bicycle recipient

Improvement translates again to hope and with hope you can build a nation that is positive and eager to move forward.  All that is left for me to say is “zekomo” which means thank you, thank you to all the health care workers, to Baylor, to Kona and basically to everyone who made this BikeTown Africa event possible. I learned more than I could have imagined and now I know how to assemble a Kona Africabike! Zekomo!