Sunday, March 30, 2008

Happy Birthday Bicing!


Bicing, Barcelona's public bicycle sharing system, marked its one year anniversary with a party on the seaside this weekend. About 2,000 persons gathered to hear speeches, watch marching bands, and eat a giant birthday cake.
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From the perspective of this user Bicing is a success and I think most Barcelonans would concur. Using this form of public transportation has saved me time and money, as well as provided me with an opportunity to get some extra exercise -- all without contributing to air pollution, noise and traffic congestion.
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Here are some statistics provided by Bicing that reflect the program's popularity: today Bicing has more than 130,000 users from 16 years of age to 83. The majority are between the ages of 26 and 35. The 4, 300 bicycles are used an average of 30,000 times a day. Each bike is used an average of 8 times a day. The average trip lasts 17 minutes and covers 3 kilometers. There are currently 286 stations that cover every district within the city limits. About 120 workers travel around the city in special Bicing vans to make repairs, switch out damaged bicycles and provide station maintenance. Every day about 300 new people join the system by paying the 24 euro annual membership fee.
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Future plans include expanding to 400 stations and 6,000 bicycles by this summer. Neighboring cities, such as Badalona and L'Hopsitalet, are considering joining the network so that Bicing can cover the whole Barcelona metropolitan area. There is talk about increasing the program's operating hours. (Currently the service is available from 5am to midnight on Sunday through Thursdays and 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays.) Plans to create a weekly pass for tourists have been put on hold, but stay tuned, because as soon as it is inaugurated, I will post a notice.
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However, the system is not perfect and not all users are happy. One anonymous commentator on the ADN.es website wrote:
"It's a shame that you do not mention the very bad management of this service: thefts of bells and damage to gears, insufficient availability of bicycles at stations, failures in the computer system that prevent you from taking a bicycle even though some are available, fines and unjust sanctions due to mistakes by those in positions of responsibility..."
(Click here for the original Spanish version of the article the writer was commenting on. Scroll down the page to view his comments.)
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This writer is referring to the following situations:
  • some of the bikes are vandalized, forcing users to ride without bells or with non-functioning gears;

  • at times there are no bikes available at a station and it is necessary to wait until someone returns one -- indeed sometimes there are lines of people waiting for a bike;

  • the computerized station racks sometimes breakdown and either will not allow people to take bikes or will not allow bikes to be returned;

  • and some members claim that they have been fined 250 euros for losing bikes that in fact they had returned.
The latter could be because of a problem with the computerized rack, but it could also be because the user did not check to make sure that the bicycle was locked into the rack properly. I have actually seen kids at the Bicing bike racks trying all the parked bikes to see if there are any bikes that they could take be cause they were not locked properly.
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Of course, the burden of proof is on the member. For that reason, I usually not only check to see that the rack has properly locked the bicycle by trying to remove the bicycle from the stand, but I also immediately try to check out another bike because if the system has recorded the bike as returned, the computer system should give me a message that I need to wait 10 minutes before borrowing another bicycle.
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Other things I hear people complaining about are the limited number of bike lanes in Barcelona, the lack of respect pedestrians and other vehicles have for bike lanes, and the fact that police seem to fine bicyclers for violations much more than they do pedestrians and vehicle drivers. (I've never heard of a pedestrian getting fined for walking in a bike lane, although it is against the law.)
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So, yes, there are problems but all in all, I have to say I am not only satisfied, I am grateful. Bicing is a great way to get around!
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¡Felice cumpleaños, Bicing!
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Carloz
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P.S. Bicing has an old English version of it's website that is not updated anymore. Click here to view it.

3 comments:

Carloz said...

I've just discovered two interesting blogs that include posts about Bicing: Copenhagen Cycle Chic and The Bike Sharing Blog, from Washington, D.C.. The first has some nice photo of Bicing useres in BCN, including one taken at Barceloneta beach. The second has an interesting time elapsed animated video of Bicing use on a Sunday. Gracias Copenhagen y Washington, Carloz

Fellow biker said...

Hi, I stumbled upon this article and even though I like it and share your enthusiasm for Bicing and all similar programs around the world, I found a detail that doesn't seem to fit: you say people are fined 250€ for unreturned bikes, whereas the official site claims that the fine is 150€. I'm confused by this, am I reading something wrong here? I admit I'm not too good with Spanish so perhaps that's the source of the confusion. Anyway, just wanted to mention that, cheers!

Carloz said...

THanks for your comment, Fellow Biker. The 250 euros was what I'd read in a newspaper the fine was for not returning abike, but you are dcorrect, the bicing web site says 150 for not returning it within 24 hours. Maybe what I read in the press was wrong, or maybe 150 is the fine for turning it in 24 hours or more late and 250 is the fine for not returning it at all. ???

Cheers,

Carloz