At the beginning of the summer, our minds turn to holidays and summer activities. In Finland, a culture of open-air dance in pavilions is a typical characteristics of the short but intensive nightless night, when the sun does not go down. Especially in the 50ies and 60ies, Finland witnessed a blooming culture of summerly dances after which it was habitual that young gentlemen offered young ladies a ride home with their bicycles resulting to a founding of new generations of young families. Luckily, back then, we did not have a bicycle-sharing system, otherwise there might be (even) less Finns today!
A bicycle-sharing system is a service, in which bicycles are made available for shared use to individuals on a short-term basis against a small fee. These systems have gained in popularity in many European urban areas. Bike-sharing began in Europe in 1965 and re-emerged in the mid-2000s thanks to the wider utilisation of information technology (Wikipedia 2016). As of June 2014, public bike-sharing systems were available in 50 countries on five continents. The concept of bicycle-sharing is to provide bicycles for short-distance trips in urban areas as an alternative to motorised public transport or private vehicles. In essence, the point is to reduce motor-driven traffic in order to reduce several problems caused by it such as air pollution, traffic congestion and noise. (Wikipedia 2016). The list of other benefits is quite impressive, you can take a look at People for bikes –site. It is considered a solution or service contributing to not only increased sustainability but also to health.
In Helsinki, we have witnessed the launch of 500 bikes in 50 locations around the city in May 2016. The bikes are available at bike stations around the city centre with around 300 metres intervals. The area will be expanded and the goal is to have 1500 bikes and 150 bike stations by summer 2017. It has the potential to offer a very useful and practical service if designed in a user-friendly way.
The city, that was the pioneer in city bicycle-sharing, was Copenhagen. The Danes were the ones who launched it first on a large scale: with 1000 bikes in 1995. The concept was developed and finalized and it diffused to multiple places in more or less the same format. In Copenhagen, there was a coin deposit, fixed stands and specially designed bikes with parts that cannot be used on other bikes. Riders paid a refundable deposit at one of the 110 special bike stands and could use bikes unlimited within the specified downtown area. In terms environmental impact, it was estimated in 2006 that Bicycle traffic in Copenhagen prevents 90,000 tons of CO2 from being emitted annually!
Nevertheless, this system has now been replaced with another, electric bicycle-sharing system in Copenhagen. It has another advantage, which may play a far more important role in the future than it does today. Denmark is also known as a country with high amounts of intermittent wind energy. Electricity systems heavily based on variable sources of energy are increasingly dependent on mechanisms that help to balance electricity production and consumption and there the electric bikes could also play a role as energy storages.
If we went back to the 50ies, I am certain that the related physical work of taking young ladies home would have been much less of a struggle for the young gentlemen and taken a lot less time if there had existed something like electric bike-sharing. Which would have been a pity of course and spoiled the whole effort of it all!
If you are interested in another kind of use experience, please check out Petteri Repo's blog post: “Helsinki city bikes – long-term success or not?”.
People for bikes, http://www.peopleforbikes.org/statistics/category/environmental-statistics
Wikipedia 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_bicycle