The rise and rise of public bike hire schemes

In depth study shows France way out in front

ZoomBikes for hire in Lyons  Bikes for hire in Lyons, France

Public bike hire schemes have truly taken off in the decade ending 2010 according to a recent report.


Sustainable mobility consultancy Mobiped has revealed that, from a standing start of public bike hire schemes of just one in 2000, there are now 460 services in 28 countries, constituting 203,000 bicycles and 13,500 stations.

In particular, the report details a comparison between the UK and France, with France way ahead on 32 operational services and only 5 in the UK (Blackpool, Cardiff, Dumfries, London, Reading). Several schemes have come and gone in the UK but all of France’s cities where the schemes were introduced still operate bike sharing schemes (sometimes the original scheme, or sometimes expanded successor schemes).

bike hire schemes

How bike hire schemes have evolved

Clearly, in the UK the London Barclays Bike Hire scheme’s 5,400 bikes absolutely dwarves its next biggest rival Blackpool, which is 500 and growing. Whilst Paris’s Velib’ scheme has well over 20,000 bikes (Europe’s largest), there are several other very sizeable ones; Lyon (4,000), Toulouse (2,500), Nice (1,750), Bordeuax (1,545) and Marseilles (1,000). 44 percent of France’s schemes are run by the same operator, JC Decaux.   

Whilst many early schemes, so-called ‘first generation’, for example those in Cambridge and Amsterdam, collapsed due to theft and vandalism, the report makes clear how technological progress and new designs have lead to a revolution in the practicality of public schemes. By the time of third generation schemes, such as Velib’ in Paris, registration and credit card processing meant the user could be identified more precisely and financial disincentives to theft and vandalism were greater.

Fourth generation schemes are now being introduced in places such as Arnhem in the Netherlands and Grenoble in France, incorporating what the report calls ‘surveillance and protection capabilities’ i.e video surveillance or tracing technology integrated into the bikes.

Looking at the global picture, 92% of public bike hire schemes are in Europe, including the UK, France, Netherlands, Italy and Spain. However, the city of Hangzhou in China boasts the world’s biggest scheme, with 40,000 bicycles spread over 1,500 docking stations.


Perhaps surprisingly, there are 426 European cities with hire schemes but only 13 in the Americas and 19 in Asia.