Sunday, October 7, 2012

City Bikes Stockholm - Part I - how the bike share works

Stockholm bike share locking mechanism where bike locks to stand
bike slot #18 at a bike station.  you can see the two access points that lock the bike front basket frame into the bike stand to secure the bike.  red light indicates that the bike is locked.  after swiping the card this little light turns green and the bike is unlocked and can be picked up off the stand.
you may remember my not so glowing description of the free bicycle share system in Copenhagen from a couple of weeks ago.  Stockholm's system started more than ten years later and has a slightly different philosophical approach and structure.
bikes locked to bike stand in Stockholm
typical City Bikes bike stand in Stockholm.  bikes are attached to the stand with two metal pieces that are welded to the underside of the front basket.  these click into a locking mechanism to secure the bike and announce to the system that the bike has been returned by the renter (as well as to update the online/ app digital bike counter)
I will compare the two systems (along with Boston's Hubway system) in Part II.  for this post I will explain how the Stockholm bike share system (called City Bikes) works and how I have been using it here in the city.
all bike stations in Stockholm have the same general setup
at every bike stand/ station, there is a card reader, a description of the program, an LCD screen, a helpline number and email address, and a map of all of the bike stands in the city
there are two ways to rent bikes through Stockholm's "City Bikes" bikeshare system.

1.  you can buy a season pass (good from April through October) for 300 SEK (about $45) at the tourism or information offices in the city as well as a couple of major retail locations (there are about 7 places in or near downtown).  you can also order the pass online and save 50 SEK (it takes about 5 business days to receive the pass).  you must be 18 or older and have a valid identification.
bike has 3 speed internal hub, coaster brakes, lever brake, kickstand, front and rear fenders, front basket, adjustable seat post, and front and rear lights
bike stand near Gardet in Stockholm.  one bike left.  the bikes all have front and rear lights (though many don't work), front and rear fenders, adjustable seat posts, front basket, 3 speed internal hub grip shifters, coaster brakes, a kickstand, and a left hand activated "typical" lever brake.
2.  you can buy a three day pass (this seems specifically geared towards tourists).  it costs 165 SEK (about $25) and is not activated until the moment when you first swipe the card to rent your first bike.
each bike stand has an explanation of the system as well as a map
signage at every bike stand in Stockholm explaining the system with the NFC card swipe at the bottom
even though I arrived in Stockholm in September, I chose to rent for the rest of the season (still full price) because Lauren was here visiting and two weekends worth of riding with the three day pass costs more than a season (300 vs 330 SEK).  we picked up the pass at Central Station and also received a map of all of the bike stations, which is also available online.  there's an app for the station locations and bike availability, but it costs $2.99 which is ridiculous, IMHO (In My Humble Opinion).
right before swiping the card to unlock a bike
typical bike stand info pole.  this one is at Karlaplan in Ostermalm.  Lauren is about to swipe the card to access a bike.
there are approximately 107 stations throughout the downtown area and beyond, including the most densely populated areas in the outskirts of the central part of the city.  there are multiple stations in a close proximity in areas that are heavily traveled, especially near major streets and subway stations.
map of all bike stations in Stockholm
this is the map at each bike stand which shows locations of all bike stands in the city
you can rent a bike between the hours of 6am and 10pm any time from April through October for up to three hours at a time.  if you want to have more than three hours you simply return the bike to a station and take out a new one for a new three hour slot.
tells you what number bike you are renting as well as other information
LCD screen at each bikestand announcing information such as the number of the bike you are renting
once the card is paid for renting a bike is easy.  there are a few simple strategies to ensure a smooth process.  in the morning before I leave the flat, I look up on the bikeshare website to see that there are bikes available at the closest stand to my location.  then I look to make sure there are empty slots at the stand closest to where I am headed.  as long as these two conditions are met, I can easily go from point a to point b without trouble.
bike share card reader in Stockholm
Lauren swipes the card on the card reader to get a bike from the stand
for a tourist (or anyone without internet access) this is possibly slightly harder because conditions could change.  for example if there is only one bike at the location closest to my place and between the time I leave home and arrive at the stand, someone could have taken the last bike and I'll need to walk to the second closest station to get a bike.  this has only happened once to me so far, so it doesn't seem to be a huge deal.

when you arrive at the bike stand, you simply swipe your card against the NFC (near field communication) style card reader.  the system thinks for a second and then spits out a number.  this number corresponds with the location of the bike you have rented.  you go over to the spot and lift the bike off the rack (within 45 seconds or so) and now you have three hours to return it to one of the 107 stations around Stockholm.  it's that simple.
bike unlocked after swiping card at bike stand LCD screen
after swiping card the screen tells the user what bike slot will unlock (be released), allowing renter to pick the bike up off of the stand and use for up to three hours
Stockholm bike share locking mechanism where bike locks to stand
bike slot #18 at a bike station.  you can see the two access points that lock the bike front basket frame into the bike stand to secure the bike.  red light indicates that the bike is locked.  after swiping the card this little light turns green and the bike is unlocked and can be picked up off the stand.
the bikes are all similar in style, although there seem to be newer ones and older ones.  the newer ones have better functioning (or at least functioning) front and rear lights that work as soon as you start pedaling.  the bikes all have three speed internal hubs (enabled by grip shifters), plus the old school brakes that work when you push backwards on the pedals (called coaster brakes).  they also all have a left hand regular brake (that you squeeze) which is what most typical bikes use across the globe.  they have front and read fenders, quick release adjustable seat posts (to change the height), and two odd sized wheels (smaller in the front and larger in the back).
3 speed internal hub grip shift
grip shifter for 3 speed internal hub gears is standard for all City Bikes.  most bikes shift reasonably well, but some don't like to go down to first gear
most of the bikes are in decent condition, but I have found quite a few that have either a flat tire, don't shift properly, can't adjust the seat post, or have wobbly wheels.  when a bike is not properly functioning (or if you have a problem at any time) you can call the number on the bike stand and report any issues.  I have called a couple of times to report problems with bikes although judging by the fact that I have found more than a handful of bikes with issues, I would say most people probably don't bother to call.  if a bike is not up to your standards or has a problem, you can simply replace it back on the rack.  in about 15 seconds it locks back into place and then you can re-swipe your card to get a new bike (the system gives you the next bike on the rack in numbered order).
metal basket connects bike to bike stand
another view of the "cockpit" of the Stockholm City Bike attached to the stand.  the basket has the locking mechanism (on the bottom) and the light (on the front) as well as a strap to hold stuff in its metal grasp.
if you are going further afield or not near a bike stand and you want to leave the bike, you are taking a slight risk.  the bikes are not equipped with locks and the only way of guaranteeing the bike is safe is reconnecting it to a stand (there are two metal pieces that click into the bike stand and activate a locking mechanism).  several times recently I wanted to run into a shop or museum (or the Ostermalm Saluhall) for a minute or longer and there were no bikestands nearby and I have left the bike unlocked.  I try to make it inconspicuous or block it with another bike.  I haven't had a problem yet.

more information as well as a comparison in Part II.

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