From Anarchy to Order: The Evolution of Bike-Sharing

A bike-sharing station in Beijing. China's bike share fleet is the largest in the world. (Image: Daniel Case, via Wikimedia Commons)

A bike-sharing station in Beijing. China's bike share fleet is the largest in the world. (Image: Daniel Case, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the summer of 1965, a group of Amsterdam anarchists deposited 50 bicycles, all painted white, around the city for free public use. Known as the “White Bicycle Plan,” the scheme was bold, innovative, and creative; it was also a huge failure.

Scofflaws soon stole and vandalized the unlocked bikes. Police, unamused with the playful attempt at subversion, seized others for alleged violations. With its fleet decimated, the program collapsed, taking along with it the idea of bike-sharing.

The notion those Dutch radicals conceived lay dormant for three decades until a smattering of bike shares began to pop up, mainly in Europe, from the mid-1990s into the early 2000s. Yet growth was minimal and sporadic, with barely a handful of programs existing at the turn of the century.

Then, in 2007, the version of bike-sharing as we know it emerged.

While the Dutch were the innovators in bike-sharing, the French were the game-changers. Vélib’, Paris’ wildly successful program — it now has over 1,200 stations and averages more than 100,000 rides per day — launched in 2007 and immediately kick-started a wave of modern bike-sharing programs across the globe. China’s Hangzhou Public Bicycle, launched one year later, remains the world’s largest bike-sharing system, with more than 75,000 bikes in its fleet.

As for the U.S., Washington, D.C., in 2010, debuted what’s considered the nation’s first bike share. Other major American cities like New York City, Chicago, and Boston, soon followed suit. Between Vélib’s launch in 2007 and the end of 2012, there was a 700 percent global increase in bike-sharing services.

Yet despite that explosive growth, some still consider bike-sharing a fad. They’re wrong.

Bike-sharing isn’t growing in a vacuum, but rather alongside a shift in the way cities — and the people who live in them — view transportation. In today’s digital age, people want convenience and connectivity. Whether it’s the person who wants to take a leisurely ride, or the person who just wants to get to work on time, bike-sharing has been successful around the world at getting people from point A to point B. As a result, what began as a quirky, progressive amenity has quickly become a crucial component of multimodal transportation systems on every continent except, not surprisingly, Antarctica.

It’s no longer just progressive urbanites who use and love bike shares either. Bike-sharing has become so successful that smaller municipalities, corporate complexes, and university campuses are all now clamoring to launch their own systems. It’s a whole new wave of bike-sharing, one that’s extending the opportunities and benefits of such programs to a far wider range of communities.

That’s where Zagster comes in.

Zagster has helped hundreds of businesses, properties, and universities implement the kind of sustainable, all-inclusive bike-sharing programs that are increasingly central to the way we travel in the 21st century. And despite robust expansion, there’s still room to grow. In 2015, Zagster added nearly 2,000 bikes to the streets, and the company is set to roll out even more this year.

Many customers are already reaping the benefits of having a Zagster program, too. For instance, only a few weeks ago, the League of American Bicyclists awarded one of our customers, St. Louis-based MTM, Inc., with a Gold Bicycle Friendly Business designation.

Adding to the rosy outlook for bike-sharing, Congress is considering a bill, the Bikeshare Transit Act, that would create a federal funding source for bike shares in the U.S. Though the legislation faces long odds in Washington, it's a step in the right direction — and one Zagster wholeheartedly supports.

These are exciting times for the global bike-sharing movement. So as bike-sharing continues to grow, thrive, and evolve, Zagster will be along for the ride.

Contributed by Nick Ford