Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Public Bike Supplier Interviews – Spring 2009

Introduction to PBS Interview Series

The city bike -- shared bike, community bike, or public bicycle system (PBS) as it is variously called -- is a quite new as well as a very effective way of getting around in the city, at least as it is practiced at the leading edge . Most certainly the fastest growing form of urban transport in the world today (admittedly from a minuscule base), it is at once the darling of the media and a favorite photo op of mayors and public officials all over the world.

However there is a small problem. That being that while they look simple enough at first glance – bunch of bikes, bunch of stands for parking them, and Bob's your uncle -- the reality turns out to be far more complex. (For a quick heads-up on that click to "Not just one more pretty bike project" here.")

This has lead to a situation over the last couple of years where many cities are showing great enthusiasm for the concept, without necessarily fully appreciating what is required on their part to make them into successes. As a result we are seeing far too many weak projects and weak plans in city after city around the world. But it does not have to be this way.

Where to turn for solid counsel on how to plan and implement your city bike project? Certainly if you are able to dig deep into the interstices of the most successful projects – not always easy to do for a variety of reasons – there are valuable clues to be had. Beyond this however certainly one of the most solid sources of information and perspective is the leading supplier groups who have partnered with the best projects thus far to get them up and running. But how to make this contact in a positive and creative way?

This turns out to be something of a challenge because in project after project we are seeing the suppliers being treated less as partners and more often as almost adversaries. It is the rare city indeed that manages to get this relationship right. Of course the suppliers are profit-making firms whose business it is to get and execute a good contract under favorable terms. But if you are a member of a city team considering a project of your own, do not lose sight of the fact that they are also your best information partners. How to bridge this gap?

Here is where this new series of World Streets is hoping to step in. We have planned to carry out a cycle of in-depth interviews over the next two months with a selection of the leading suppliers active in the field worldwide, in an attempt to ask some of the questions that you may have in your pocket. We will be speaking with program leaders in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Japan, Spain, the US, the UK, and possibly by the time we are finished one or two others as well.

If you have questions you would like us to add to our list of ten for each interview, pass them on and we will see what we can do with them. And once we publish them, your comments and questions will be welcome on each profile (using the Comment link under the respective interview). Likewise if you have more general points to share with us, we invite you to Comment in the link at the end of this entry.

Further Q & A: We are inviting each of the interviewees to visit the Comments section in the weeks following their posting, and, as they feel it appropriate, to give their attention to comments and questions that readers of Streets may have logged in.

The Editor

* For the record, one of the most valuable sources of information on this topic is the World City Bike Consortium started by the New Mobility Partnerships in 2006 as a place to share information and ask questions from people directly involved at the working level. You can consult this site freely at

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