Published on 19 October 2017 by Hilary Staples
This summer thousands of bright-coloured share bikes suddenly appeared all over Amsterdam and Rotterdam, causing a heated debate. In part 2 of the series 'Do share bikes have a future?' we look at how share bikes have been received by regular bike rental companies and city councils. Is the way the new share bike companies operate legal?
Share bikes are being left in parks. Photo © Holland-Cycling.com
Holland is known for its unique cycling culture. With so many keen cyclists you would have thought that Amsterdam and Rotterdam must have been delighted with the sudden arrival of thousands of bright-coloured share bikes last summer. But no, it was definitely not a case of the more bikes the merrier. Rather than being embraced, the share bikes are seen as a problem that has to be dealt with.
For many years all Dutch cities have struggled with the problem of too many bikes parked everywhere; nuisance bikes blocking pavements, taking up public space, being vandalised, looking a mess. To solve these problems and make the streets liveable, a lot of time and money has been invested in creating more and better parking facilities and a stricter bike parking policy has been implemented - in 2016 as many as 60,000 wrongly parked bikes were removed by the Amsterdam city council alone!
In 2017 new rules were also introduced for bike rental companies in the centre of Amsterdam: they are no longer allowed to park more than two bikes outside their premises. Although not all these new measures proved popular, it was great to see that the nuisance caused by bikes was getting more manageable. At least until all those bright-coloured share bikes started to pop up all over the city.
Regular bike rental companies are not happy with the new share bike schemes. One of their main concerns is that public space is used for commercial purposes. "Bike parking spaces that have been paid for with public money, are being used commercially by third parties. Amsterdamers already have so little space for their bikes! Soon you won't be able to park your bike at Central Station, while someone else is using the parking spaces to earn money."
Understandably, the way the free floating share bikes are scattered all over cities is seen as unfair competition. Bike rental companies have voiced their concerns in local and national media: "I am not against innovation, but there should be an even playing field. FlickBike uses the street as commercial space, while in the centre of Amsterdam we are only allowed to place two bikes outside our shop. For each extra bike we risk a 1000-euro fine." Bike rental companies fear that Amsterdam City Council will wait too long with regulation. "There is going be chaos."
Amsterdam City Council said in July that the free floating share bike system was 'undesirable' as it takes up public space. On the other hand, city councils believe share bikes could play an important role in improving 'from door to door' transport and reducing the number of cars. Share bikes could also bring down the number of bikes that are parked out in the streets. So despite their initial reservations, the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague decided to wait and see what would happen and then decide how to control the share bike phenomenon: "First chaos, then regulation.'
There are now no less than five share bike companies in Amsterdam. "Competition will be fierce," according to an innovation scientist of Utrecht University. "The new share bike companies will want to win over as many users as possible in a short time by distributing as many bikes as possible, exploiting the fact that councils haven't yet implemented any rules."
Within the first month it became clear that in particular the free floating share bikes were becoming a nuisance. They were parked where they shouldn't be, remained stationary for too long and were taking up valuable spaces in the public bike parking facilities - much to the annoyance of other cyclists. "The aim of the share bike system should be to reduce the number of bikes in the city. So far the number of bikes only seems to increase," complained Pieter Litjens of the Amsterdam City Council at the beginning of August.
Share bike companies tried to tackle the nuisance themselves. They started using geo-fencing to prevent bikes being parked where they shouldn't be. They also relocated wrongly parked bikes and tried to keep the number of bikes per parking facility down to two. This wasn't enough for the city of Amsterdam. Based on a by-law (article 2.50 of the APV) that prohibits public space from being used to offer services commercially, they want to put end to the invasion of share bikes. Share bike companies have until 20 October 2017 to remove their bikes themselves. After that all share bikes will be removed by the council.
Does this mean the share bike is to disappear from the Amsterdam streets forever? No, the ban on share bikes is said to be a temporary measure. The city council wants to get together with the share bike companies to discuss how the share bike could work. The Singaporean company OBike was disappointed by the council's decision, claiming that "too much attention is being paid to the complaints of just a few people." Two Amsterdam based companies are more understanding and supportive.
One promising example is the pilot project of Hello-Bike which operates in the Zuidas area. Currently the company has 250 bikes and three thousand users that make around 400 trips a day. "Our success comes from collaboration with the city council. They monitor our system and we provide data. They determine the rules and also whether time has come for expansion."
Amsterdam is the first city to come with regulations to put an end to the nuisance caused by the sudden arrival of thousands of share bikes. Rotterdam is facing similar problems and has said that "if the companies don't come up with a solution soon, Rotterdam will have to." The Hague will only allow share bike companies that have their own parking facilities. And so far Utrecht doesn't have any free floating share bikes, "but this might change any moment. So we are already looking into regulation."
In part 3 of the series 'Do share bikes have a future?' we ask whether Dutch cyclists actually want a share bike. Are there other, maybe better alternatives?
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