The TH Interview: Bicing, Barcelona's Bike Sharing System (Part 1: City Council)

Red Bicing bikes parked on a rack in Barcelona.

albir / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

For ten months now, Barcelona's citizens have been riding and sharing 3.000 cute white- and red-coloured bicycles throughout the city. There are over 100.000 subscribers now riding the bikes, from high-heeled women to guys in business-suit and trendy Barcelonans across all generations. Over 3.000.000 times has the service been used since its launch in March. The name of this bike sharing system: Bicing.

We tried to find out more about this new phenomenon that brings hope to make Barcelona a world-class bike city and decided to do a series of interviews. Part one is an interview with Mayra Nieto from the Mobility Division of B:SM, the Barcelona Municipal Service.

TreeHugger: When and how did you first consider the idea of starting a bike sharing system in Barcelona?

Mayra Nieto: Before Bicing, the bicycle had grown to become one of the everyday ways of transport in Barcelona over the years. During 2006, 35.000 bike journeys had been registered, of which 88% were internal (start and finish in Barcelona). The city counts 128 kilometres of bike lanes in its urban network. An additional 22 kilometres are planned to be installed for the year 2008. Moreover, 53% of Barcelona's road network is car-free. With the installation of the Bicing, the Barcelona City Council wanted to take the next step towards prioritising its sustainable policy and the promotion of public transport within the city centre. TH: Did you contact or visit other cities (Paris, Lyon, Copenhagen, etc.) that have set up a bike sharing system before Barcelona for advice?

MN: We visited the city of Lyon in France as it seemed the most similar one to Barcelona. In Oslo they have a similar one too although I believe it is more of a renting system where any person can take a bike during a maximum of 3 hours.

TH: What other system providers (companies) did you consider?

MN: We launched a public competition and Clear Channel won because their system was the one that could best be adjusted to the conditions we set in the competition.

TH: Why did you get to decide on this particular system?

MN: Because it is sustainable, healthy and fully integrated in the public transport system of the city.

TH: Was it especially designed for Barcelona?

MN: The bicycles have a specific image, distinctive to Barcelona. The City Council collaborated with B:SM on the design for the Barcelona bikes. Its adjustable dimensions for youth and adults, the reduced weight (they only weigh 16,5 kg) and the wide and ergonomic handlebar make driving easy. All bikes have three speed gears, a foot peg for the resting position, anti-slip pedals, a nocturnal lighting system and both front and back breaks. They are made from the resistant materials steel and aluminum since they are always in the street.

TH: What are the system's advantages and what would you say its downsides?

MN: One of the advantages would be that each Bicing bike has an ID number that connects the vehicle to the user that is using it at any given moment.

TH: How long is the contract with the service provider for? What is the anticipated lifespan?

MN: Ten years

TH: A yearly subscription of Bicing costs 24€ a year, after which the first half hour is free and every other half hour costs 30 cents. Is Bicing making enough money to cover its maintenance or do other city council programmes have to cover it?

MN: Like all public transport systems, it is financed by the City Council. In this case, a big part of the financing comes from the surplus of the Área Verde, or Green Area (road side parking regulation). Another part comes from its own subscriptions.

TH: Can you say anything of what the installation and launch costs have been to Barcelona (city council)?

MN: B:SM is the public company in charge of administration. It offered 2.2 million Euros per year for the company that would win the public competition. In this case Clear Channel won. Hence, Clear Channel gets paid the agreed amount each year in order to take over all logistics, installations, maintenance, staff, etc.

TH: There are rumours that some other cycling projects in Barcelona have suffered/not received finance because of the spend on Bicing. Is there any long-term plan for any Bicing revenue to be re-invested in other cycling provisions or schemes?

MN: The City Council has the intention to build more bike lanes in the coming years. Apart from this, Bicing is the only public transport by bicycle and therefore we believe that no parallel projects exist in Barcelona.

TH: Since cyclists are regarded a problem in Barcelona by some people, and as a consequence the government reinforced the laws for cyclists, we are wondering whether the idea behind installing Bicing was more to get private bikes off the road or to encourage more people to cycle.

MN: Bicing doesn't pretend to substitute the use of private bikes, but rather offers an additional public transport mode that should be used for everyday journeys. For that reason we believe that Bicing promotes the general use of the bicycle.

TH: You said you expected 40.000 users to sign up in the first year, and had those after about two months. How did you deal with the big success of Bicing?

MN: The system has had since its installation very good feedback from the citizens. During the first months an average of 3000 registrations took place every day (at the time, we had an offer of 6€/year).

At present, the registrations follow the rhythm of about 100 per day. Anyway, after six months we had 90.000 users registered. Therefore it has been decided to extend the numbers of bicycles and stations by 6.000 vehicles before the summer 2008.

TH: Have there been any incidents of theft or vandalism of Bicing bikes or components?

MN: Until now, there are only a few isolated cases since the bikes are provided with an anti-vandalism mechanism and the pieces are not compatible with other bikes on the market.

TH: Why are not enough bikes made available for visitors to be able to use them too, since visitors can use all other forms of public transport?

MN: Visitors can obtain bikes from existing private companies that rent bicycle. At the moment the favoured is the citizen who lives or works in the city. Let's not forget that Bicing is a public transport system and doesn't pretend to substitute the bicycle used to go for a stroll.

TH: Has the city Council had to increase the number of bikes and bike lanes due to the success of this mode of transport?

MN: Yes, it has been decided to double what had been planned in the beginning.

TH: What new facilities are planned for non-Bicing cyclists? For example, Barcelona still seems to suffer from much theft and damage to legitimately parked cycles and some suggest there is a great lack of secure parking, both on-street and off-street.

MN: There is bicycle parking in the public car parks of the city. Moreover, additional bike stands are being installed at various points in the city.

TH: Is there an indication that the use of cars and motorbikes has decreased because of Bicing?

MN: At this moment, it is too early to calculate an outcome of this kind.

TH: Novice cyclists have been introduced to Barcelona's streets through Bicing. Has the number of bike accidents increased or decreased since the introduction of the system? Would you say people are getting more used to bikers? What is being done to increase safety?

MN: Based on the information we have, accidents that have happened with Bicing are small and scarce. Since September 2007 the City Council applied a new law that regulates the circulation of vehicles in the city. This law always benefits the weakest over the strongest. For example, in front of the law, the pedestrian is better protected from the cyclist, and in return, the cyclist is the better protected one when it comes to motorcyclists,

TH: Building the first bike sharing system in Barcelona is a big step toward more innovation in the city. What other innovative things regarding cycling and eco-friendly transportation are planned?

MN: There are already some in place like the public buses that run on gas, or the incorporation of the trams (Trambaix) that circulate recently through certain areas of Barcelona. (see an early post about the grass tram tracks here)

Apart from those interventions, the intention exists to create more 'zones 30' (zones in the city where you can't drive more than 30km/h) and more parking zones specifically for motorbikes and bicycles.

TH: What do you think will be the state of cycling in Barcelona in five years?

MN: I think that the number of people that go by bike will go up. Maybe the Bicing cannot grow more in numbers of vehicles but the fact that you can see so many bikes circulating through the city will result in more people deciding to use this system or their own private bike to get around.

all images by Petz Scholtus