Sustainable Cities™

Barcelona - Biking club for city residents

Riding a bike releases no CO2. It is cheap, and it is healthy. A local need for improved and increased transportation options as well as a global desire to reduce CO2 emissions caused the Barcelona city council to launch the bicycle project ”Bicing” in 2007; a project which would provide the city’s residents with an environment friendly alternative to public transportation. This case shows how Barcelona turned a bike-sharing system into an overwhelming success.

Barcelona, Af MorBCN, Flickr Creative Commons

Barcelona, like many other cities, suffers from massive amounts of atmospheric CO2, released from both private and public transportation. Consequently, the city council has been striving to make the city more environmentally friendly and has worked hard to increase public transportation use.

Of course, getting people to leave their car requires an alternative. And not just any alternative but an alternative that is easy to access. A simple system, straightforward in operation, which demands very little time of the user. In Barcelona, this alternative has become the bike-sharing system called Bicing.

The success of the project is substantial. When the bike stations first appeared in March 2007, the city council expected to have 40,000 users within the first year.  However, by May, there were already 1,500 bicycles, 100 stations and 30,000 citizens with membership and, after only 6 months, the project had 90,000 registered users. Today, there are more than 175,000 subscribed members annually who altogether contribute to the average 50,000 trips on Bicing bikes each day.

Prior to the Bicing project, representatives from the city council visited Lyon, France: a town with experience using the Bicing bike-sharing system. Then, after a public competition and the worlds' largest outdoor campaign, Clear Channel Outdoor's design was selected to be the new mode of transportation in Barcelona. The proposal called for a system of SmartBikes, which could be used as an entire additional public transport system. In 1997, Clear Channel Outdoor became to first to implement a SmartBikes system, introducing it in the French city of Rennes as an environmentally-friendly alternative to traffic related problems.

"Bicing doesn't pretend to substitute the use of private bikes, but rather offers an additional public transportation mode that should be used for everyday journeys."

Barcelona's public transportation and parking company B:SM manages the Bicing system on a large scale and annually pays 2.2 million € to Clear Channel Outdoor to deal with logistics, installations, maintenance, employment of staff, etc. Revenue from inner city parking costs and Bicing member subscriptions is used to finance the project.

Barcelona Bicing bikes, 3 February 2008, by Romonfrombcn, Flickr Creative Commons

The system works such that everybody with an address in Catalonia can buy a year's membership of Bicing for 30 €. This allows a city resident to use one of the 6,000 bicycles spread out all over the town in 400 specially-made Bicing stations. Specifically, the stations are distributed over the Barcelona inner city with a distance of 300-400 m between them and most of them are close to other forms of public transportation, allowing people to combine them with Bicing. Bikes can be occupied for up to two hours a day and the first 30 minutes are free of charge. After this, it costs 0.50 € for every half hour. A personal ID-card (with the bikes id-number) enables the Bicing manager to know who has last rode a bike and when it was ridden. SmartBikes weigh merely 16.5 kg, have three gears, and are equipped with headlights and backlights. They are made of stainless steel and aluminum and can be adjusted to fit both youths and adults. Also, large ergonomic handlebars make it easy to steer the bike.

Another surprising benefit of Bicing is that it has helped Barcelona deal with a previous bike theft and vandalism trend. At the very least, the system appears to have given citizens the opportunity to use bikes at times or in places which they would normally deem unsafe to ride a personal bike. Additionally, Bicing provides opportunities like biking one way to work on a sunny morning and taking the metro back at night after an unexpected rainstorm has struck. Accordingly, Bicing is not only used by citizens who do not own bikes but is also widely used by those who do.

Several areas of Barcelona have applied for an extension of the Bicing-system to their particular part of town and, at present, a study is investigating how this can best occur.

As of now, the primary challenge for Bicing is to keep up with demand, ensuring that there are enough bikes for everyone who wishes to choose a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to common public transport.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014