The future of city bikes or a waste of money?

Depending on who you ask, Copenhagen’s new bicycle-sharing programme is either an unnecessary luxury or the most sophisticated one yet

In 1995, a system was introduced that allowed tourists visiting Copenhagen to rent a bicycle as easily as using a shopping cart – by slipping a shiny golden coin 

into a locking mechanism.


These clunky bikes made up Copenhagen’s bicycle-sharing system, which went relatively unchanged until the city decided to discard them last year without any mention of a replacement.


The outrage was immediate, with many asking how Copenhagen could consider itself a modern and cosmopolitan city without a bicycle-sharing scheme to rival the excellent systems in London or Paris?


The City Council eventually agreed that Copenhagen needed a bicycle-sharing system and recently presented the new programme that they hope will reaffirm the city’ status as one of the world’s best cities for cyclists.


But not everyone was convinced.


READ MORE: Deputy mayor: World's best city bikes for world's best bike city


Gobikes go high-tech

The new city bicycles are produced by the Danish/Dutch company gobike. The first 250 bikes will be rolled out at 65 bike stations in Frederiksberg and Copenhagen this autumn, and by next spring there will be around 1,260 city bikes on the streets.

By spring 2014, around 1,250 bikes will be available at 65 different stations (Photo: Ursula Bach)

The bikes are sophisticated and connected via GPS to an online network. Commuters can book the bicycles online, while tourists can use the bike’s touch screen to log in and pay to use it to get around the city.

The touch screen also doubles as a navigation system and information terminal where users can look up train timetables and nearby cultural offerings.


A battery pack that transforms the gobike into an electric bike can be activated by paying an extra small fee.


Targeting commuters

While the bikes can be used by tourists and locals, gobikes are designed to be the ‘missing link’ in the city’s public transport system and help commuters travel the final stretch from the train station to their office.


Commuters sign up for a subscription that allows them to book a bike on their computer or mobile phone. Upon arrival at a train station in the city, the user locates their bike, which they then can ride to their office and can lock using a pin code.


When they want to go home at the end of the day, they simply unlock the bike and ride back to the train station and leave it at a docking station. If the docking station is full, the user can simply park and lock the bike next to it.

Each city bike will cost around 48,000 kroner, which some see as an unnecessary expense (Photo: Ursula Bach)

The city hopes that the system will encourage commuters who drive to switch to public transport and reduce the pressure on the city’s roads.


“There is far too much congestion in Copenhagen, and if we are to ease it, then we need to make it easier to take trains, buses and the Metro,” the transport minister, Pia Olsen Dyhr (Socialistisk Folkeparti), told Berlingske newspaper. “Sometimes it is necessary to use a bike to reach your final destination.”


An expensive luxury

The system is not without its critics, however, and high on the list of complaints was the cost of the system. Frederiksberg Council and the rail operator DSB are each contributing 11.4 million kroner over the next eight years, while Copenhagen City Council is voting this autumn to set aside 100 million kroner for the eight-year period.


According to the city, each bike will cost around 48,000 kroner to buy and maintain over the eight years. If the bikes are slowly rolled out, the city could probably afford to buy around 3,000 bikes for its 100 million kroner investment.City Council member Rasmus Jarlov (Konservative) was particularly critical of the price. 

“Not only are the extremely expensive luxury bicycles a poor return for taxpayers’ money, it will also undermine many private bicycle rental firms,” Jarlov wrote in a press release. “They have no chance to survive if they have to compete with such an artificially low price. We don’t believe that the council has the jurisdiction to run these sorts of businesses.”

Too expensive and complicated

Harry Lahrmann, a traffic researcher from Aalborg University, also questioned the cost.


“There are no studies about what these projects really cost,” Lahrmann told engineering publication Ingeniøren. “We need someone to find out how much it costs per kilometre to keep a city bike running. Then we can find out if it pays to run the bike scheme.”

The new city bikes are equipped with a tablet, but critics argue that could be distracting (Photo: GoBike)

Lahrmann added that while he recognised gobike’s potential to reduce congestion, he wondered why the city had opted for a completely new system.


“There are plenty of examples of modern city bikes in other European cities,” Lahrmann said. “A lot of money could have been saved by choosing an existing programme.”


This view was shared by Mikael Colville, a co-founder of urban consultancy Copenhagenize Consulting. “There are already fantastic bicycle-sharing systems in the Netherlands that are cost-efficient,” Colville told The Copenhagen Post. “They could have copy and pasted a system that has already been proven to work. This is the grossest over-complication of a simple system I have ever seen.”

Colville has tried out dozens of bicycle-sharing systems around the world and finds several aspects of the gobike system disquieting. He argues that the electric engine that can propel the bike at 25 km/h an hour is dangerous in a city where the average cycling speed is a mere 16 km/h.

And while speaking on a mobile phone while cycling is already illegal, a touch screen presents exactly the same potential to distract cyclists.

“The bike share system is the new Rejsekort,” Colville said, referring to the public transport travel card that has been beset by delays, malfunctions and which went massively over budget. “It is overly-expensive and doomed to failure when there were easier solutions at hand.”

Factfile | New bicycle-sharing system
– The bikes are alternately referred to as ‘gobikes’ or ‘bycykler’, which combines the Danish names for ‘city’ and ‘bicycles’
– 250 bikes will be rolled out at 65 stations in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg this autumn. 1,260 should be on the streets by next spring
– Rail operator DSB and Frederiksberg Council are each providing 11.4 million kroner over the next eight years. The City Council will vote this autumn on whether to set aside 100 million kroner over the next eight years
– The bikes will cost 20kr per hour to rent; 25kr per hour if the electric motor is used
– A subscription will cost 70 kroner per month.  Every extra hour after the first 30 minutes costs 4 kroner or 6 kroner if the motor is used.
– It costs subscribers 10kr to book a bicycle and non-subscribers 20kr
– Not picking up a bicycle, cancelling a booking, not parking the bike in a docking station if one is available, and leaving the biike too far from a docking station all incur fees

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