The growth of bike-sharing schemes around
the world
How Dutch engineer Luud Schimmelpennink helped to devise urban
bike-sharing schemes
A The original idea for an urban bike-sharing scheme dates back to a summer’s day in Amsterdam in 1965. Provo, the organisation that came up with the idea, was a group of Dutch activists who wanted to change society. They believed the scheme, which was known as the Witte Fietsenplan, was an answer to the perceived threats of air pollution and consumerism. In the centre of Amsterdam, they painted a small number of used bikes white. They also distributed leaflets describing the dangers of cars and inviting people to use the white bikes. The bikes were then left unlocked at various locations around the city, to be used by anyone in need of transport.
Luud Schimmelpennink, a Dutch industrial engineer who still lives and cycles in Amsterdam, was heavily involved in the original scheme. He recalls how the scheme succeeded in attracting a great deal of attention — particularly when it came to publicising Provo’s aims — but struggled to get off the ground. The police were opposed to Provo’s initiatives and almost as soon as the white bikes were distributed around the city, they removed them. However, for Schimmelpennink and for bike-sharing schemes in general, this was just the beginning. ‘The first Witte Fietsenplan was just a symbolic thing,’ he says. ‘We painted a few bikes white, that was all. Things got more serious when I became a member of the Amsterdam city council two years later.’
C Schimmelpennink seized this opportunity to present a more elaborate Witte
Fietsenplan to the city council. ‘My idea was that the municipality of Amsterdam would distribute 10,000 white bikes over the city, for everyone to use,’ he explains.
‘I made serious calculations. It turned out that a white bicycle — per person, per kilometre — would cost the municipality only 10% of what it contributed to public transport per person per kilometre.’ Nevertheless, the council unanimously rejected the plan. ‘They said that the bicycle belongs to the past. They saw a glorious future for the car,’ says Schimmelpennink. But he was not in the least discouraged.
Schimmelpennink never stopped believing in bike-sharing, and in the mid-90s, two Danes asked for his help to set up a system in Copenhagen. The result was the world’s first large-scale bike-share programme. It worked on a deposit: ‘You dropped a coin in the bike and when you returned it, you got your money back.’ After setting up the Danish system, Schimmelpennink decided to try his luck again