24 February 2015

Watching Copenhagen Bike Share Die


Photo by Dennis Steinsiek from Dutch-it.eu

The news today out of Copenhagen is about the imminent failure of the city's new bike share system. Copenhageners are ignorning the bikes, few trips are being taken on them and they have become a tourist gimmick, not the commuter dream they hoped for.

It's a rare event that a bike share system fails. Only a very few systems around the world have folded. Melbourne was the poster child for failure thanks to their helmet laws, helmet promotion, lack of infrastructure and anti-cyclist laws. Now it looks like Copenhagen will step into the failure spotlight.

I am in two minds.

I have never been a fan of the bikes or the system and have done little to conceal that fact. I said it was doomed to failure back in 2013. I have wondered why Danish State Railways didn't just copy the decade-old OV-Fiets system from Dutch Railways instead of being seduced by useless, overcomplicated technology. You can read all about why I think the system was a massive fail from the beginning in this article.

While it is always great to be proven right, it is also sad when a project that puts more bikes in a city is on the cusp of failure. Especially sad when my tax money was used on it.

The Copenhagen bike share system was launched a year ago. Here are some relevant numbers.

The Cost
The average cost for a bike share bike in cities like London, Paris, etc is about $800. An OV Fiets bike costs about $400.

The Copenhagen bikes cost $3000 each. $10,000 each in total for purchase and maintenance over eight years. You read that right.

The Copenhagen Go-bikes aren't even free, like in most of the 650 cities around the world with bike share programmes.

It costs 25 kroner ($5.00) per hour to ride one. You can get a subscription for 70 kroner if you want, and that knocks the price down when you use it.

You can rent a bike for the entire day at Baisikeli for 60 kroner.

The City of Copenhagen has invested 40 million kroner ($7.5 million) in the project.

The Users
The biggest mistake in Copenhagen is a complete misunderstanding of how people think and of civic pride. The successful bike share systems in Barcelona and Seville, for example, are for locals only. You can't use them if you don't live there. They are something for the locals, not the tourists. An important distinction. Locals rarely want to resemble tourists in any city. The Copenhagen GoBikes are just like the Bycykler that Copenhagen launched in 1995 - they are already labelled as a touristy thing.

The goal for the new bikes was that each bike would be used 3 times a day by local commuters.
Since the launch they have been used 0.8 times a day - by tourists.

The Usage
800 people signed up for a subscription in the summer of 2014.
That number has now fallen to 256.

In the first half of December 2014, only 530 trips were registered.

The Fleet
The plan is that 1860 new bikes should be on the streets in Copenhagen. There are only 426.
There should be 105 docking stations. There are only 27.

One problem is that the German supplier, MIFA (Mitteldeutsche Fahrradwerke), went into recievership last autumn. Which doesn't say much for this product.

The Lame Excuses
The damage control spin coming out of City Hall from, among others, Mayor for the Technical and Environmental Administration Morten Kabell as well as people like Nikolaj Bøgh, head of the By- og Pendlercykel Fund is much the same. It's all "oh, but you see... we haven't even marketed the system yet!

Seriously? A product that is well-designed, intuitive and that actually serves a practical need will market itself. Failed design won't.

Viral? Not.
The Copenhagen bike share system was meant - in the mind of the Danish State Railways - to be so groovy that it would spread to other Danish cities. Turns out that ain't gonna happen. The second largest city in Denmark, Aarhus, just launched new bikes recently.

Exit Strategy
We can't keep pumping money into a system that isn't working. Who will get us out of this mess?
If we got out now, we'd still have money to implement a Dutch style OV-Fiets system that would work from the first ride.

More on the subject:
- The Bike Share System Copenhagen ALMOST Had
- The E-Bike Sceptic
- Bye-bye Bycyklen
- The Future of City Bikes or a Waste of Money?