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Future still seems bright for city bike systems

In recent years, city bike systems have been introduced in cities around Finland, and it is no longer necessary to argue for the positive impacts of cycling. Sweco has been involved in the design of city bike systems in several cities, among them Helsinki, Lahti and Tampere.

Sweco’s objective is to promote sustainable mobility and cycling on many different levels. Our experts of sustainable mobility compile promotion programmes and reviews of walking and cycling, and also design practical solutions. “We offer consultation in subjects such as planning and procurement of city bike systems. We also design high-quality cycling infrastructure from cycling routes to bicycle parking,” says project manager Mikko Raninen.

Cities have more and more options available to them when designing and acquiring city bike services. The technology of city bikes has evolved in leaps and bounds since Alepa bikes were first introduced on the streets of Helsinki, for example. According to Raninen, electrical assistance already is and will continue to be the major trend of city bike systems. “E-scooters have partly entered the same market segment and are competing over customers.”

The services also overcame the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the use of public transport decreased, as did the number of park-and-ride trips and commuter trips in Helsinki, for example. “The number of recreational trips increased at the same time, and customers rode longer trips with the city bikes.”

City bikes have established their position in Helsinki

Sweco has been involved in the planning and coordination of the city bike system hubs in Helsinki since 2016. “City bikes have established their position and popularity in Helsinki, and the service includes nearly 4,600 bikes in Helsinki and Espoo right now,” Raninen says. The network of bike stations covers the whole of Helsinki, excluding Östersundom.

Next, the Helsinki Metropolitan Area is preparing for 2025, when the current contracts in Helsinki, Vantaa and Espoo will all be coming to an end at the same time. “At the time, it will actually be possible for the whole region to create a shared service. However, the work for this must be started soon to ensure a smooth transition,” Raninen says. “It will take a year or two to get the new bikes out on the streets even in just one city.”

On the streets of Lahti by Mankeli e-bikes

In Lahti, the European Green Capital 2021, cycling is promoted comprehensively. The goal is that more than half of all trips will be taken by a sustainable mode of transport by 2030. Sweco’s experts compiled a feasibility study for Lahti city bikes and assisted in the acquisition of the service. A little over a year later, 250 electrically assisted Mankeli city bikes were commissioned.

“The successful pilot project was implemented in Lahti last autumn, leading to plenty of positive feedback to the city and a great deal of important data for developing the service further,” Raninen says. During the pilot project, one Mankeli bike was used for an average of 2.33 trips per day, and more than 1,600 tickets were sold for the pilot season.

Sweco’s experts also helped prepare the city bike acquisitions of Oulu and Tampere. Oulu did not move forward with the procurement, but Tampere introduced 700 Sale city bikes in summer 2021. “The first summer did have some difficulties, but we trust in the popularity of the bikes. Now, we have our fingers crossed as we monitor how they will establish their position alongside other sustainable modes of transport, such as the tram.”

Sweco’s extensive experience in its home country has also been noted on the other side of the Gulf of Bothnia. “Last autumn, we were commissioned to design a bike station network in Stockholm,” Raninen says. This year, Stockholm will introduce 5,100 e-bikes with the same service provider as the City of Helsinki’s city bike system.

Future of city bike services

City bikes have established their place, but there are dark clouds hanging above the services – or at least some questions related to them. City bikes are an excellent addition to public transport, but the pandemic has drastically reduced the utilisation of public transport.

Scooter companies have also taken over a share of the city bikes’ popularity and are now bringing e-scooters to cities. Companies developing new pricing and service models and their growing fleets in cities are here to challenge the cities’ own services.

A first example of this is the City of Oulu, where the politicians decided that the market-based electrical scooters would fill in the role of city bikes. In this changing environment, cities should carefully consider their own objectives for the city bike service as well as which of these objectives could be met with market-based services and which service gaps require the city’s contribution.

It is clear that the game is changing. New operational and collaborative models are needed so that the cities can benefit from the market while still ensuring that their goals are met. The times ahead in city bike services are interesting, to say the least.