Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
The Dutch are in dead last, and one program stands above the rest.
Comparing the world's bikeshare programs is a formidable task—there are now over 160 of them, 29 in France alone. But this month we get a little closer to knowing where the best places to share bikes are, at least in Europe, information that could be useful to city planners and irresistible to urban comparison fiends.
The new rankings come thanks to the German Automobile Club, of all places. The ADAC rankings evaluate European bikeshare systems in four categories: accessibility, information, operation, and bicycles. The conclusions — sharing bikes is good for the planet and could reduce Germany's car use — seem obvious, but the details are more interesting. The short of it:
Highlights: in Prague, there’s a free mobile app. In Lyon, you can call a toll-free bikeshare hotline. In Stockholm, there are some unusually cool-looking bikes.
Lowlights: in Utrecht, instructions are only in Dutch. In Bari, you must be 18 or older.
Weird: in Luxembourg, the system is called—after the French word for bicycle—vel’OH!, which sounds like you just crashed your bike.
Evidently the ADAC is a discerning body, for out of the 40 programs in 18 countries surveyed, only the French culinary capital Lyon received the overall "very good" rank. (And that despite a modest grade of "sufficient" for their bicycles.) Several cities—Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Turin, and Valencia—received positive ranks in every category. In sheer size, Paris’ Vélib dominates the competition, with 1,751 stations and 23,900 bikes. The runner-up, London’s Barclays City Hire, is about one third that size, with 558 stations and 9,200 bikes.
The outright losers in this survey are the Dutch, whose programs in Utrecht, Amsterdam, and the Hague all received the lowest marks of sehr mangelhaft—very poor. Martti Tulenheimo, the urban mobility polity officer at the European Cycling Federation, thought there might be an institutional difference in the Netherlands: "The real answer may be that the Dutch take an entirely different approach. Their bikeshare scheme is more of a national system run by the national railway company, which appeals to an entirely different market."
But Denmark, Europe’s other bicycle paradise, also received relatively low marks for systems in Aarhus and Copenhagen. Since so many Danes and Dutch have their own bikes, bikeshare systems there might be only marginally useful to the natives, and hence poorly maintained. Amsterdam and Copenhagen also both have an extensive bicycle rental industry that has targeted tourists for years.
If you can read German, here’s the entire list.
And if not, you can settle for this janky Google-translated page.
Top image: Flickr user Pug Freak.