By Jane Wakefield
- 17 June 2018
Cities around the world are turning to the bicycle to help solve congestion and pollution issues, as urbanisation increasingly puts pressure on traditional infrastructure.
Fifteen years ago there were just four bike-sharing schemes in cities around the world, but now there are close to 1,000.
Most require you to pick up and leave a bike at a designated area, but new “dockless” schemes from China are coming to cities around the world – and proving controversial.
The first public bike-sharing scheme, Velib, launched in Paris in 2007, attracted 20 million users in its first year.
As well as the obvious environmental benefits, it brought considerable health advantages too – Velib users were estimated to have burned more than 19 billion calories in the first six years of the scheme.
Now, new schemes such as ofo, dubbed the Uber for bikes, want a slice of the action.
Ofo is China’s largest bike-sharing operator, with an estimated three million daily users across 34 cities in the country.
It is in a further 150 cities worldwide.
Users click on the app to locate the nearest bike and receive a four-digit code to unlock it.
They can use it for as long as they want, for a fee of about 50p per half hour.
When they have finished, they can leave the bike wherever they want, although they are encouraged to drop it near existing cycling parking.
I cycle to the station every day, but only in the suburban town I live in.
I have never dared tackle the streets of London.
So, when I was given the opportunity to try out some of the capital’s cycling infrastructure on a Dutch e-bike from cycling company Gazelle, I leapt aboard.
The first thing I discovered is that cycling in segregated lanes is easy, fun and really starts making the bike look like a good alternative method of transportation.
But there simply isn’t enough of it.
Venturing out of the safe confines of Hyde Park, the infrastructure is patchy – one minute you can be cycling in a separate lane and the next it will abruptly end, pushing you into the traffic.
As Erik Tettero, a cycling consultant and senior policy adviser to the Dutch government, told me afterwards: “You need a comprehensive network and having a luxurious cycling super-highway along the Thames is no good it if arrives at a junction where you are fighting for your life in traffic.”