If you visit Barcelona, Spain, for the first time in several years, you will notice how much the city has changed. The biggest indicator will probably be the construction development of the Sagrada Familia cathedral. Started in 1882, it is now scheduled to be completed by the year 2026.
Another thing at which you will probably raise an eyebrow or two is the numerous bicycle-hire stations spread throughout the city area. Like many cities all over the world, Barcelona is investing heavily in a public bicycle-sharing system. Called Bicing, it was inaugurated in 2007. Since then, it has won several awards and become an integral part of Barcelona’s public transport.
Greener Rides for All
At the time of writing, there are 420 Bicing bike stations in Barcelona, which means that every 300 to 400 metres you will encounter something like what is pictured here. Naturally, every metro (subway) stop has its own Bicing station to ensure solid integration of these two major means of public transport in Barcelona.
Today’s 6,000 Bicing bikes are used for 100,000 daily trips, which represents a huge savings of carbon dioxide and other emissions what contrasted with that of motorised transport.
The program’s success stems in part from its easy accessibility and affordable pricing. Users only have to pay 35 euros per year to sign up for the Bicing card and then all rides up to 30 minutes in duration are free! Bikes can be picked up at any station and dropped off at any other. For longer rides, rentals are offered for up to two hours at a cost of 50 cents per half hour beyond the free 30-minute threshold. Or users can return their wheels after half an hour and then wait just 10 minutes to get another bike for free.
A Bike-Friendly City
In its long-term approach to making cycling in Barcelona not only more accessible but also safer and more comfortable, the local city government has started construction of an extensive network of bicycle lanes as well. In recent years, more than 200 kilometres of cycling paths have been added. Due to the restricted space in the city centre, in many cases a car lane has been converted into a bike lane and cordoned off to permit safe cycling away from motorised traffic.
The government’s statement here is clear: more space for bikes, less space for cars. And they are still going a step further: the Bicing system’s setup and operational costs of 6 million euros for the first years will be paid from the city’s income in parking fines and tickets. So if you want to support cycling in Barcelona during your stay, just let your rental car be towed away and a big chunk of the fine will support Bicing!
The only downside of the system is that during weekdays you cannot use the bikes between midnight and 5 a.m. These are the hours during which bikes are relocated, a necessary service since Barcelona is quite a hilly city and many users tend to catch a bike for their way down hill, but ride the metro on the way up. In the evening in the upper quarters of Gracia or Sarria, some stations may run out of bikes, whereas stations on the port or in the beach neighbourhood of Barceloneta tend to become full.
A Better Way to Explore
If you are visiting Barcelona as a tourist, there is another minus to Bicing: to obtain the Bicing card, you have to be registered as a resident of Barcelona. Fortunately, for sightseeing on two wheels, an organized bike tour is the best way to experience Barcelona anyway.
Bike Sharing Around the World
All across the globe, more than 300 bicycle-sharing programs provide a fast, convenient, healthy and affordable (or free!) form of sustainable public transport that really does help to reduce pollution and traffic. Here are some of our favourites:
- Launched in July 2007, Paris’ Vélib’ bike-sharing system has been gathering speed with continually high demand all over the city. Currently, Vélib’ has 20,000 bikes that locals and travellers alike have used for approximately 50 million annual rides. At just 1.7 euros/day, 8 euros/week, or 29 euros/year, rates remain low and help to ensure the program’s continued success.
- In Ireland, the dublinbikes program began in September 2009 and easily reached 1 million rides in its first year alone. Today, the program has 550 bikes available for rental at 44 stations throughout the city. The system remains wildly affordable: long-term hire costs 10 euros, while visitors can buy a three-day pass for only 2 euros!
- In the United States capital city of Washington D.C, a public tax-payer-supported bicycle-sharing program has been gathering speed since it first was launched in September 2010. Capital Bikeshare is now one of the such programs in the U.S., with more than 1,100 bikes available at 114 stations. Rentals for 24 hours cost US$5, while five-day memberships are available for US$15.
- Bike-sharing stations can be found every 100 metres in Hangzhou, China, the city that is home to the world’s largest community bike system. This incredibly successful program presently has over 60,600 bikes available for rent near most bus stops and water taxis. Prices are more than affordable but require a 300-yuan deposit. For visitors, rides are free for the first hour and cost just 1 yuan ($0.15 USD) per hour for up to three additional hours.
- Aimed at encouraging active means of transport in the city of Montreal, Canada, Bixi Montreal is a publicly funded bike-share program operated by the city’s parking authority. With over 5,000 high-quality bikes available at 400 city kiosks, the program is encouraging exploration of the city’s well-maintained bike paths. Subscriptions are available for just Canadian $5 per day, $28 per month or $78 per year.