How do you go home with a bicycle when you went to work by tram? – Take a Citybike from the terminal in front of your office and ride home, where you return it at the nearest station.
Citybike Wien (CBW) makes it easy to spontaneously decide to go by bicycle even if you didn’t bring your own. Usually, when you rent a bicycle, you are bound by opening hours and have to return it at the same place where you borrowed it – and often pay a hefty fee as well. All this is different with CBW, where you can rent and return bicycles 24 hours a day at any of 102 terminals spread out all over the (inner) city of Vienna. In 2013, Citybike Wien celebrates its 10th birthday; the first stations were opened in May 2003.
The first bike-sharing systems were Amsterdam’s ‘white bikes’ in 1965; unused bikes were collected, painted white and distributed throughout the city without locks so that everybody could use them. This, however, was more a political action than a long-lasting system. The second-generation bike-sharing systems drew on specially fabricated bicycles which could be used within marked inner-city areas and unlocked with a coin. The ‘Viennabike’, a 2002 precursor project of Citybike Wien, is an example of this. It followed a model from Copenhagen yet lasted only for a few months in Vienna. Since there was no user registration, nobody could be held responsible for the borrowed bicycles, many of which disappeared or were broken. This led to the development of a system with user registration, the third generation of bike-sharing systems.
Despite the failure (or, rather, the experiment) of ‘Viennabike’, the positive public reaction also showed that the city’s population liked the idea of a bike-sharing system. Within just a few months, terminals were developed where people can register with cards almost everyone owns: an international credit card or an Austrian Maestro card. At first, the terminals didn’t work very well, but frequent user feedback helped to eliminate bugs. This system safeguards that bikes will not be stolen because the users’ bank details are already known, and a fee of Euro 600 will be charged if a bicycle is not returned.
Citybike Wien started out with twelve stations in 2003; as of March 2013, there are 102 stations with about 1,200 bicycles in operation. Not only the number of stations and bicycles is on the rise but the number of registered users as well, attaining a total of 401,000 in 2012. The amount of kilometres travelled per year equalled a record of 2.3 million in 2012. Therefore Citybike Wien is a part of the increase in sustainable mobility in Vienna by significantly raising the share of distances travelled by bicycle.
An important aspect of Citybike Wien is that it is mostly free, which makes the system an easily accessible complement to public transport. Registration costs only one Euro. The first hour of every ride is free of charge, and 95% of trips do not exceed this time limit. The average usage time is 22 minutes; the most frequent, between 10 and 12 minutes. This goes to show that bikes are mostly used for short distances but also that they are a fast way to navigate through the city. Longer usage comes at the slight cost of one Euro for the second hour, two Euros for the third, and four Euros for every consecutive additional hour. Registration and rental can all be carried out directly at any terminal. Moreover, all terminals show the availability of bikes and free boxes for return on an interactive city map, which can also be found on the Internet. Furthermore, apps for various smartphones have been developed. The map has also been incorporated into online bike routing systems that tell you how to best ride from one station to another. Its availability at important public transport hubs allows for good intermodal connections. Overall, this is a quick and user-friendly system that the Velo-City team also utilises frequently.
The enterprise behind Citybike Wien is Gewista, a formerly municipally owned media company that has been privatised. It started the bike-sharing system with the first 50 stations and employs the team. Further expansion aimed at setting up new terminals is currently underway with the support of the Vienna City Administration. Gewista is part of the French corporation JCDecaux, which through its Cyclocity line has implemented similar systems in 67 cities across the world. Sponsors, who can see their logos actively moving around the city, cover the majority of the costs.
The CBW team, who maintain the bicycles as well as the IT system, consists of 18 people, many of whom were formerly working as bicycle couriers or active in bicycle self-repair workshops. The whole system is very mobile, based on a web app: notifications of technical malfunctions, broken bicycles, full or empty stations are sent to smartphones. Up to three citybikes can be transported with a self-built bicycle trailer. Of course, the technicians have work bicycles to move from station to station quickly and comfortably. Sometimes it is necessary to redistribute a larger amount of bicycles throughout the city; in this case, a car with a trailer for twenty bicycles is used.
In December 2012, JCDecaux’ Vélib’ in Paris won the Financial Times/Citi ‘Ingenuity Award’ in the infrastructure category. Citybike Wien was the forerunner of the Parisian system, which opened with 750 stations in 2007 and since then has grown to almost 1,500 with over 20,000 bicycles, therefore making it by far the largest of its kind in Europe. Other operators have adopted this strategy, and every year more cities are implementing bike-sharing systems. The biggest to date is Hangzhou Public Bicycle in Hangzhou, China, with more than 66,000 bicycles and distances between stations of only 100 metres.
Citybike Wien has an agreement with the City of Vienna to enlarge the network to 120 stations by 2015, while the management of CBW is aiming for the same goal already at the start of Velo-city in June 2013. The two key objectives are (i) further expansion and (ii) densification in inner-city districts. The first not only poses the challenge of longer distances but also of covering more hilly terrain; as a result, citybikes are often used for one direction only and then have to be transferred back by CBW personnel for the next day. The second will increase bike use by offering closer proximity to places where users want to go. In a recent online survey by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF, 77% of respondents stated that they would welcome an expansion of the network.
The participants of Velo-city will have the opportunity to ride a Citybike and thus to discover Vienna on two wheels. At this point it is also fair to state that some members of the Velo-city 2013 Communications Team are occasional ‘power users’ of Vienna’s Citybike. Yes, it is easy to use!
Find more information about Citybike Vienna on their website (in German).
Velo-city 2013 Communications Team