City bikes are breaking all records in Helsinki! The targets for the new city bike system were reached already before summer even really began.
There are now more than 10.000 registered users and only few minor problems have been encountered. Each city bike is used on average 6.9 times per day, which is reported to be a top figure in international comparison. Feedback has also been positive. The bikes themselves are reported to be intact and not to be missing (Aalto 2016).
So should we be happy about the current success of this particular sustainable innovation and the policy of promoting biking in cities?
The critical observer in me is eager to find a shortcoming in the system. And it is very easy to find one in the Helsinki city bike system. This shortcoming is in fact a ”classic”, since service design seems to repeat it year after year. It's registration.
Registration is seen to ensure the responsible use of city bikes. You'd imagine you can go to a bike and start using it with your personal bus card which is so nicely shown on the user interface of the bike. Nope, better go online first and submit your payment card details. Responsible yes, convenient no.
While this unfortunate procedure may have secured that city bikes don't go missing, and has contributed to a controlled uptake of the system, it also affects the user base. Eager city bikers – lead users, so to say – are most likely to go through the hassle. For the rest of us, the season may be over before we get going.
Don't take me wrong – I enjoy city biking both when commuting and as leisure. So far the best system I've come across is in Copenhagen as it did not require preregistration. Biking is a wonderful way to experience a city – and in Copenhagen you can get all the benefits that electric bicycles bring along: power, speed and navigation.
That's the other catch, which is not so apparent. If city bikes are intended to provide more than exercise, i.e. reduce traffic in cities, light electric vehicles could be a more appropriate choice. Vehicles such as electric scooters, skateboards and Segways appear apt to substitute for private cars, public transport and walking (Hyvönen, Repo & Lammi 2016), hence to provide new ways to organize traffic in cities.
The choices we make on city bikes may indeed have long-going effects on the sustainability of city traffic. Providing easy, no-hassle access for all would put us on a good track. And introducing light electrical vehicles might just provide the additional momentum required to reach better sustainability.
Aalto, Maija (2016). Helsingin pyöräteillä rikotaan ennätyksiä – ”kansainvälisestikin vertaillen aivan huippuluku” (Breaking records on Helsinki bike paths – ”top figure even in international comparison”, in Finnish), Helsingin Sanomat, 4.6.2016. Accessed at www.hs.fi/kaupunki/a1464931215963 – with nice video.
Hyvönen, Kaarina, Petteri Repo & Minna Lammi (2016, forthcoming). Light electric vehicles: substitution and future uses. Transportation Research Procedia.
If you're interested in another secondary, yet desired outcome of biking, please read Kaisa Matschoss' blog post on Finnish biking culture.
Sustainable innovation, Resource efficiency, Environment, Climate action, Public participation
Relevant tags: bicycle, city, registration, electric, vehicles, Social innovation, Technological innovation, Sustainability, Eco-innovation, Sustainable lifestyles