The Tel Aviv Commuting Trend That's Headed to a City Near You

Tel Aviv has a reasonable number of bikes, but usage needs to improve by about four trips per bike a day to make the program economically feasible.

From Barcelona to New York City to Tel Aviv, bicycle rental programs are gathering speed and are now operating in hundreds of cities worldwide. According to the American Institute of Transportation and Development Policy, the leading cities in terms of use are Barcelona in Spain, Lyon in France, and Mexico City. In Israel, the municipalities of Jerusalem and Haifa are considering instituting similar programs to the one in Tel Aviv.

In the space of a single decade, bicycle rental programs have spread to 600 cities, with the largest number of users in Chinese cities such as Shanghai, according to a comprehensive report issued last week by the institute. The number of bicycles available for rental in cities worldwide now exceeds 700,000. That’s quite modest when compared to other means of transportation, but the growth rate is impressive; the number has increased seven-fold in the past six years.

The idea of placing bicycles at the service of the public began in Amsterdam in 1965, though advanced technology for payment and monitoring only became available about a decade ago in some European cities.

The success of the bike rental programs is measured by the average number of trips per day that every bike makes and by the number of trips per day per thousand residents. According to this parameter, the leading city today is Barcelona, with an average of 10.8 trips per bike per day and 67.9 trips per thousand inhabitants. In second place is Lyon in France. Also in the top seven cities are Montreal, New York, Paris and Rio de Janeiro.

According to the report, certain conditions have to be met to ensure efficient use of the bike rental network. The first is that there should be 10 to 16 stations for every square kilometer and that they be no more than 300 meters apart. There should be at least 10 bikes for every 30,000 people in a big, crowded cities. The system should cover an urban area of 10 square kilometers at least (one-fifth of the total area of Tel Aviv) and the bicycles themselves should be easy to use and of a high quality.

Cities have found a variety of methods to fund and operate the rental systems. Some cities outsource the whole network and some operate them jointly with the private sector or even subsidize them. One benefit of the bikes is that it significantly reduces private vehicle travel. Washington D.C. operates its system through a private company, and its annual 22,000 subscribers save about seven million kilometers of private vehicle travel.

In Tel Aviv, there are now 1,700 bikes for rent through the Tel-0-Fun system. By comparison, there are 1,222 rental bikes in Buenos Aires and 950 in Boston. But there are 2,000 in Lyon and 3,500 in Brussels. Tel Aviv has 174 stations and each bike logs some six rides a day, four less than is necessary to make the program economically feasible, according to the institute. Activists in Israel Beshvil Haofnayim, a grass-roots group encouraging bicycle use, say they want to see the project extended to other cities in the greater Tel Aviv area.

The Jerusalem municipality said that the Jerusalem Development Authority is examining the feasibility of a bike rental program and discussions are underway with the Transportation Ministry for assistance in implementing the project. The study will be finished in a few months, the municipality said. The Haifa municipality said it was moving ahead on a bike rental program that should go into operation in 2014, and that the project will operate in the flat parts of the Carmel mountain city and extend to the Haifa Bay suburbs. Haifa wants the bike rental system to use integrated tickets that will cover the light rail and the bus system as well.

Tomer Appelbaum