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Bike-Sharing in Barcelona

This article was written by Erica Barnett in December 2007. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.

2077968402_8d5906b5af.jpg These people are riding bicycles provided by Bicing, a nine-month-old service that bills itself as “your new public transport in Barcelona!” (I’m sure it sounds better in Spanish or Catalan; I’m reading the translated website). We wrote about Bicing shortly after it launched last March. Since then, the service has expanded dramatically -- from 100 bicycles at 14 bike stations around the city to more than 1,500 at 100 stations. The stations are so numerous, they're almost ubiquitous -- at least within the urban core you literally can't walk more than a half-dozen blocks without running into one.

The service functions much like a car-sharing service. Once you register with the company (you have to be a resident of Barcelona, and it costs 24 euros) and activate your swipe card, you can use any one of Bicing's 1,500 bikes, which are designed to prevent people from stealing parts, and to be recognizable. The first 30 minutes of every trip are free, and you can return your bike to any Bicing location around the city (there are at least 100)--one key improvement on car-sharing services, which typically require a user to return the car to the location where he or she picked it up. Every half-hour over the initial free half-hour costs 30 eurocents, making Bicing the cheapest public transport system in Barcelona. You can keep any one bike for up to two hours, and you can always return a bike, run your errand, and grab another for no charge. The bikes seem to be very well-maintained, and everyone uses them—old people, little kids, teenagers on cell phones--everyone.

According to the web site, “Bicing has to be understood as a way of public transport , so that you move from one place to another.” What a great concept--the idea that bikes should be a public service, just like the metro or buses, available at minimal cost to all citizens. In places with less comprehensive public transportation than Barcelona, the impact of a program like Bicing could be huge--replacing the many short trips that are typically taken by car with equivalent short trips taken by bike.

The Bicing program is funded with 2.23 million euros a year in parking fees on drivers who park in the city center--a nice flip on the usual model (here in the US, at least) of funding roads by imposing taxes on everyone, including those who choose not to drive. Since its launch in March 2007, Bicing has grown to serve 90,000 users, and Barcelona Mayor Jordi Hereu has proposed increasing the number of bikes to 6,000 by next summer, and the number of bike stations to 400. In light of Bicing's success, Madrid and other Spanish cities are considering similar services.

(Photo by author).

Bicing in Barcelona is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.

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