This article was published in 2007, in Newsletter 72.
Lyon’s hugely successful free bike scheme that I reported on in Newsletter 63 (December 2005) has spread to Paris with the announcement that 14 000 free bikes will be provided. If they had won the Olympic bid, it would have been 100,000.
Britain’s most notable response to this technology is from the private company OYBike. I’d seen this on the streets of Hammersmith and Fulham back in 2005, and so was interested to see what had changed when the company came up to sell the idea to Cambridge City Council in January.
The principle of the scheme’s operation is similar to Lyon’s, with these key differences:
- It uses mobile phones to release the bikes.
- It is much cheaper to install and run.
- The bikes don’t look anywhere near as nice as the Lyon bikes, and have some cheap looking components which I think spoil the system.
- The electronic console to release the bikes is very simple and very cleverly does not need any network or telephone cable. It looks ugly, but can be mounted on walls or on Sheffield racks. (The Lyon scheme is highly customised and has computers communicating with base at every velo-station.)
The Lyon velo-stations take up a lot of space on the highway and require a computer console. The OYBike consoles are relatively tiny and could be fitted to walls and Sheffield stands in the city. There is a risk that some cycle parking space would be reallocated to the OYBike scheme, reducing the already inadequate supply for ordinary bikes in our city centre. This would be opposed by the Cycling Campaign. In practice though I don’t think it would matter too much, and it’s not the biggest problem the scheme faces.
Although the OYBike system is installed and running in Hammersmith and Fulham, the main feeling I have is that this is a good idea needing a lot of investment to develop it into a winning project. The Lyon scheme has now proved beyond doubt that fully automated on street cycle hire systems can be successful and make a serious contribution to the transport infrastructure of a city. The history of Cambridge’s disastrous Green Bike scheme was probably why no councillor was brave enough to meet the OYBike presentation, but there are many other cities around Europe where they will probably be successful in establishing this cheaper competitor to the Lyon (JCDecaux) scheme.