bike sharing

What is it and how does it works?

Bike sharing is a service which makes a fleet of bicycles available, to be used on a shared basis, for making short, rapid journeys, notably in city areas.



The key concept linked to bike sharing is making bicycles available to users which can be used for short journeys in urban areas. This service is offered as a solution integrated into local public transport and is seen as an alternative to private vehicles. Bike sharing systems are usually also used to cover the first or last mile in city-type contexts, allowing users an easy connection with the local public transport network. Bike sharing services may be operated both by non-profit associations and by commercial businesses, based on models which vary depending on the objectives and context of use. This results in a classification of the service can be put into two different categories:

  1. Community Bike Programs,1. i.e. programmes typically organised either by for profit or non-profit local groups or associations
  2. Large Scale Public Bike Programs,2. i.e. programmes coordinated directly by the public administration (e.g. municipalities, regrtnerships).

Bike sharing systems have been studied with a view to being able to use both traditional bicycles and electric bicycles, depending on the needs of the area in which the said service is being offered



The principle of operation concerning bike sharing services is rather simple and normally provides for the user to register with the service before being able to utilise the bicycles. Once registered, before collecting a bike, the user must complete the following steps:

  1. check the availability of bikes in the area in which he intends to collect the bike;
  2. reserve a bicycle via the website or through a mobile application;
  3. unlock the bike from the station via a suitable authentication system (e.g. through a contactless identification system);
  4. use the bicycle for his own needs;
  5. take the bicycle back to one of the bike sharing stations (typically, the same one as the bicycle was collected from).
If the bike sharing service offers electric bikes, when delivering the bike back, the user must also connect it to a charging station, otherwise he will be penalised. Bike sharing services can be either free of charge or subject to payment. In this last-mentioned case, the rate is typically set based on the time of use, and not on the distance travelled.



The bike-sharing services can be managed by both non-profit associations or commercial companies. The models used vary depending on the objectives and context of use. This leads to a classification of the service in two different categories:

  1. community bike programs: are programs typically organised by groups or organisations that are both with rather than without profit ;
  2. large scale public bike programs: are programs coordinated directly by the public administrations (eg, municipalities, regions or public-private partnerships).
The bike-sharing services can be for free rather than paid. In the second case the costs are typically determined based on the time of use and not by the distances covered by the user. Pricing methodologies may be multiple: subscription fee, time charging, or a combination of both. Typically the time-based charging provides the first 30 or 60 minutes for free, especially in the case where a subscription fee is charged.



Bike sharing services prove to be capable of being easily integrated into traditional public transport systems such as, for example: buses, trains, trams, etc., and are Bike sharing services prove to be capable of being easily integrated into traditional public transport systems such as: buses, trains, trams, etc., and are offered as an alternative, especially in an urban environment to private vehicles. Places where there is a large concentration of people (e.g. train stations, bus stations, shopping centres, etc.) may represent perfect sites for the installation of bike sharing stations. This will enable users to use public transport for the longer journeys in a complex itinerary and bike sharing just to cover the first or last mile. In this way, the service would be used to support the current local public transport services and not be a competitor.


The advantages of bike sharing may be summarised as follows:

  • 1

    Ecologically sustainable

    The use of the bicycle by citizens reduce vehicular traffic and consequently the pollution linked to the exhaust gases produced by vehicles in circulation.

  • 2

    Increase of the free space

    Bicycles occupy less space than cars and so this leads to less space needed for parking. This aspect allows the user also to identify a free parking slot for his bike more quickly than for his car.

  • 3


    The use of the bicycle even for short trips stimulates daily physical activity. This helps to maintain a better state of fitness. That contributes to raise the average level of health of the population.

  • 4

    Increased accessibility

    With the bicycle citizens can access restricted traffic zones and historical centers allowing them to reach the destination much quicker and easier without covering long distances by foot.

  • 5

    Time saving

    As the bike paths do not suffer from problems of congestion in urban areas, typically travellers that use bicycles are faster than those that use motorized vehicles.