Madrid’s elec­tric bi­cy­cle share sys­tem takes off


They al­low you to climb the steep­est streets of Madrid with­out sweat­ing, even on sul­try sum­mer days: more than 50,000 res­i­dents of the Span­ish cap­i­tal have signed up for a public elec­tric bike share sys­tem.

In the shadow of the San Ilde­fonso church in the heart of Madrid, Anne Stauder, a tourist from Lux­em­bourg, is try­ing out a Bi­ciMAD bike for the first time.

“We came from Lux­em­bourg with our four bi­cy­cles in­side our car — my chil­dren, my hus­band and me — and we have vis­ited the city like that for 10 days. But I wanted to try the elec­tric bike be­cause Madrid is hilly,” the 44-year-old said.

The white bi­cy­cles work just like a reg­u­lar bike but an elec­tric mo­tor kicks in to help with ped­al­ing, and most im­por­tantly it give an ex­tra push up hills.

The city of some three mil­lion peo­ple launched its elec­tric bike share sys­tem in June 2014.

While other Euro­pean cities like Lon­don and Paris set up shared bi­cy­cles schemes ear­lier, Madrid is the first ma­jor city to of­fer a sys­tem that only uses elec­tric bi­cy­cles.

The ar­gu­ment be­hind Bi­ciMAD is that with only reg­u­lar bikes, they ac­cu­mu­late in low-ly­ing ar­eas and need to be shuf­fled around by trucks to re­dis­tribute them to higher ground — as hap­pens in Barcelona.

Mar­got Bonilla, a 28-year-old IT tech­ni­cian, started us­ing the elec­tric bikes in July and no longer uses the metro to get around the city.

“You ex­er­cise, you don’t pol­lute and you move around fast. It’s just a bit ex­pen­sive for my taste,” she said.

An an­nual mem­ber­ship to the bike shar­ing scheme costs 25 eu­ros (US$27.7) while rent­ing a bi­cy­cle costs 50 cents dur­ing the first half hour, then 60 cents for the next half hour.

By com­par­i­son a ride on the Madrid metro costs 1.5 eu­ros for travel in the cen­ter of the city.

Another prob­lem is a lack of bi­cy­cles, Bonilla added.

“Yesterday I had to walk home be­cause I went to two sta­tions and did not find any,” she said, re­peat­ing a com­mon com­plaint from regu-

lar users of the sys­tem.

Vandalized and Stolen

The city rents the bi­cy­cles from Span­ish firm Bonopark, which since 2013 has supplied elec­tric bi­cy­cles for a sim­i­lar scheme in the north­ern Span­ish city of San Se­bas­tian.

“We have a thou­sand bi­cy­cles avail­able at 160 sta­tions right now,” said the head of the Bi­ciMAD sys­tem, Joaquim Jimenez.

“We will have 2,000 elec­tri­cal bi­cy­cles once the sys­tem is fully op­er­a­tional and the goal is to have 4,000 by 2026 when the con­tract ends,” he added.

Madrid city hall has spent 535,000 eu­ros to rent the bi­cy­cles from Bonopark since the bi­cy­cle shar­ing pro­gram was launched in June 2014.

It blames the short­age of bi­cy­cles on a tech­ni­cal glitch with the dock­ing sys­tem, which of­ten fails to rec­og­nize bikes and locks them, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for users of the sys­tem to take them for a ride.

The elec­tri­cal bi­cy­cles also suf­fer all sorts of at­tacks: they are mis­treated by users, yanked from dock­ing sta­tions to be taken for a free ride, aban­doned any­where, some­times even in the city’s Man­zanares river.

Since the launch of the scheme, 470 bi­cy­cles have ei­ther been stolen or vandalized to the point that they could no longer be used, ac­cord­ing to a city hall tally.

The van­dal­ism has in­creased since the start of sum­mer but city hall does not link the in­flux of for­eign tourists dur­ing the peak travel sea­son with the rise.

Stolen Bi­ciMAD bi­cy­cles usu­ally resur­face since they can only be recharged at a public sta­tion and they weight a hefty 22 kilo­grams, said Jimenez.

The launch of the elec­tri­cal bi­cy­cle shar­ing scheme has led to an in­crease in the use of bi­cy­cles in gen­eral in the city, de­spite the lack of cy­cle lanes.

“Clearly we want a city with fewer cars,” the city coun­cilor in charge of mo­bil­ity, Ines Sa­banes, said.

“We need the use of bi­cy­cles to de­velop, it is an obli­ga­tion,” she added, re­fer­ring to Euro­pean Union de­mands that Madrid boost public trans­porta­tion to curb high air pol­lu­tion lev­els.


A mu­nic­i­pal em­ployee car­ries out pre­ven­ta­tive main­te­nance and re­pairs on a Bi­ciMad public elec­tric bike-shar­ing sta­tion in Madrid, Spain, Thurs­day, Aug. 13.

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