Paris got many cities to start thinking seriously about bike-sharing systems when it launched Vélib in 2007 – a municipal bike-sharing network that has been widely successful and grown to include over 20,000 bicycles at 1,200 stations. Cities worldwide have begun adopting the idea, but it is perhaps most suited to an area like the Middle East, where weather is relatively mild year-round and cycling is a viable option most of the time. 2011 was a big cycling year for the region and a few Middle Eastern cities have already adopted bike-sharing systems, with others contemplating implementing them soon.
Is bike-sharing gaining speed in the Middle East? Could it be the region’s new mode of transportation?
Doha was the first Middle Eastern city to launch a local bike-sharing system in February 2011. Bikes are rented free for the first 30 minutes (which encourages commuter cycling). President of the Qatar Cycling Federation, Sheikh Khalid bin Ali al-Thani, said at the launch of the system that “the idea is to eventually make the country bicycle-friendly with separate cycling lanes.”
Tel Aviv announced that it would be initiating a bike-sharing system at around the same time that Doha did, but it took until late May 2011 to really get it going. The city’s system – Tel-O-Fun – includes 150 stations and 1500 bikes that can be used by annual, monthly, weekly or daily subscribers. It has gained popularity since it was launched in the spring, and may Tel Aviv residents can now be seen rocking a Tel-O-Fun bike.
Despite the recent proposal of a law that would punish cyclists for riding on pavements (despite Cyprus’s lack of allocated bike lanes), Nicosia launched a bike-sharing system in November 2011. Cypriot Environment Commissioner Theopepmtou has his doubts, claiming that the system is geared solely towards connecting the city’s universities and promoting leisurely cycling (instead of commuter cycling), but hopefully the system will expand and gain popularity.
In early November Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati tweeted that “the example of Vélib’ rental bikes in Paris is interesting for Beirut to be more ecologically/pedestrian friendly and reduce traffic. Agree?!” Obviously he’s for it, and he would be supported by many activists advocating for sustainable transportation in Beirut. The city may not have the infrastructure yet to support a bike-sharing system, but the desire for one is there.
Cairo has not yet formally discussed a bike-sharing system, but fellow Green Prophet Inji El Abd feels that it is time for a cycling revolution in the city. Cairo revolutionaries on bikes were the first to get to Tahrir Square and demand a better future for their country, so maybe the benefits of cycling will soon catch on. As an activist with Cycling for Change, she hopes that Cairo will become the next “Critical Mass” city.
Read more about bicycle sharing:
Bike Sharing Down to a Science
Israel Becomes a Nation of Pedalers (Cycling Freaks)