Two years ago TreeHugger commented, not too positively, on the bicycle rental scheme in Brussels. Calling the post "Free Bikes Flop in Brussels", lack of bicycles, lack of docking stations and lack of commitment were all issues.
The bicycle sharing system in Brussels, called Villo, is a public-private partnership between the local authorities and an advertising company. The French advertising firm JCDecaux finances the infrastructure in exchange for advertising space. However there were a number of problems with the system: unavailability of bicycles and parking spaces.
Then the citizens became involved out of frustration at the company's lack of responsiveness. Through social networking sites and community activism, a new group called Where's My Villo? was started in September to pressure JCDecaux into doing a better job with the bicycle rental scheme.
Naming and Shaming
They make use of information that is widely available to shed light on the problems with the system. It is an enlightening example of how open data can be used by citizens to exercise pressure. The website, called Where's My Villo?, tracks the performance of Brussels' bike-sharing scheme They make real-time data available about the status of each station. This helps users find out which stations have bikes or free parking spaces.
By pulling data from Villo!'s servers every five minutes and writing them onto a database, they can compute a daily list of the worst places to find a bike or to park one. The website also allows visitors to see how well the station(s) they use most frequently perform, and report their own experiences with problems (from finding a bike to technical problems at stations).
Activism is contagious
Another group has popped up: Villostats. Started by a self-described group of Villo fans, this website claims that you can "explore the life of the Villo network and analyze the behavior of your station. You can observe and try to understand the habits of Villo users. Villostats is a workshop, an experiment, an attempt to grasp the complex dynamics of a bike rental service in an mid-sized european city." They provide daily time line charts,and parking availability forecasts.
And does it work? So far, yes. JCDecaux recently announced at a press conference they will be allocating more resources to reshuffling bikes in response to the initiative.