Massive number of train passengers take the OV-fiets

The popularity of the OV-Fiets (Public Transport bicycle) knows no boundaries. I have written before about this nationwide shared bicycle rental system of the Netherlands’ Railways. It made headlines again in the Dutch newspapers recently because the one million bike rentals per year threshold will be passed this year*. OV-Fiets expects 1.1 million round-trips** for 2011, up from 835,000 in 2010. Another mile stone: the number of subscribers will pass the 100,000 mark this year. Up from 34,000 in 2008 when the Netherlands’ Railways took over OV-Fiets.

“Massive number of train passengers take the Public-Transport bicycle”
Investigations bring to light that OV-Fiets subscribers travel more by train, “because they can get to more places easily”. Sharing their enthusiasm with family and friends leads to more subscribers.

Investigations bring to light that OV-Fiets subscribers travel more by train, “because they can get to more places easily”. Sharing their enthusiasm with family and friends leads to more subscribers.

“Public-Transport bicycle immensely popular in the city”

Interestingly enough this program is not recognised by the people behind the bike share world map. They keep the Netherlands as a blank spot in the world of bike share programs because they feel the OV-Fiets system doesn’t meet their description of: “short-term bicycle rental available at a network of unattended locations” by either “coin deposit” or “high-tech”.

Many of the over 250 OV-Fiets rental locations in the country are indeed manned and thus attended. But a great number of the locations is not. In the video below you can see how the bike share system works at the railway station in the town of Heerlen in the extreme (and hilly!) South of the Netherlands. This is an unattended indoor bicycle parking facility. Where many people park their own bicycles but where you can also get your Public Transport bicycle, by use of electronics.

As can be seen in the video it is not the bike that is stuffed with electronics, only the entrance into the facility and the way you get to the key is taken care of electronically. Apparently this is all not high-tech enough. Oh well, just another thing that many people in the world don’t understand when it comes to the extremely effective cycling measures in the Netherlands.

* Although “one million trips per year” may seem like an awful lot, it is actually nothing of the sort. In the Netherlands people on their own bikes make “one million trips per hour.

** Other bike share programs are single-trips per rental. OV-Fiets is almost always a round trip (compared to two rentals in other programs) because usually you take the bike back to the initial rental point.

While we are debunking figures here: just how ‘massive’ is massive? The Dutch Railways claim there are over one million train travellers per day. So that would be 365 million per year. These 365 million travellers make one million bike trips by OV-fiets. Doesn’t really sound ‘massive’ now does it? Especially compared to the figure of 40% of train travellers using their own bike to get to and from the stations.

Bike share programs can be very convenient for an individual, but they will never really contribute to a higher mode share.

This post, written by me, was first published on a different platform.

The original comments:

Paul Martin said… I would be thrilled if we had a system like this. This is an excellent way to mix long & short distance trips. All we have at our train stations are a few bike ‘boxes’ which are too small for a dutch bike, limit access to only a few individuals and don’t allow ad-hoc use. There are usually only enough bike racks for 3 or 4 bikes and they’re often not covered or in a safe location. Great video too. I recognise that actor 😉 16 June 2011 02:31

Frits B said… The latest SPOOR magazine published by the Railways for their card holders announced that for a trial period till the end of this year, electric assist bicycles will be added to their fleet. For now it’s just 10 bikes each on 10 main stations*. The first ride will be at the same rate as a non-electric bike so as to encourage trial rides, next rides will cost somewhat more although no rates have been published yet. During the six months’ trial period, users will be asked to give their impressions on an on-line questionnaire. What happens then will depend on the results and reactions. * Breda, Den Haag, Eindhoven, Gouda, ‘s Hertogenbosch, Leeuwarden, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Rotterdam and Utrecht. 16 June 2011 10:46

Anonymous said… Nicely made video, thanks. Given that the bike from these automatic stations is selected before you see it what happens if the bike is for some reason a non runner, do you end up losing out (I agree that 3 euros is not a big risk). With the London Bike scheme it is important to check the wheels spin and the tyres have some air in them before releasing one or you can be stuck, unless they have since changed the set up at the stations. Also are they generally safe from thieves and what would happen if you rented one and it went missing, that is to say are the penalties fair. Can visting foreigners subscribe or is membership limited to Dutch addresses? Mark Garrett, Bristol UK 16 June 2011 12:32

Frits B said… Inspired by Mark Garrett’s question I visited the OV website (which is in Dutch only) to find out how foreign visitors would have to proceed but cannot find an answer. What I did find was a new initiative that Paul Martin will appreciate: the OV-fiets@home. The Hague and Utrecht are two stations with lots of commuters who cycle to the station and leave their bikes there, and a high number of OV-fietsen for incoming commuters. As the bike parkings are already overflowing by day and the OV-fiets parking could do with a bit more capacity by night, a simple solution is to let commuters take their OV-fiets home overnight, use it the next morning for the first leg of their commute, leave it at the station for use by someone else, and take another OV-fiets home when arriving at the station for the return commute. This effectively reduces the necessary capacity at the bike parking and increases the number of OV-bikes available at the station by day. Keeping the bike at home during the weekend or on a day off is OK. Cost is 15 euro a month, for which you have a fully insured beater bike for your commute (in case of theft the risk for the user is 45 euro if you have the key, 250 euro if you also lost the key – so left the bike willfully out to be stolen).Good initiative. 16 June 2011 14:34

Frits B said… @Mark Garrett: I went to the local OV rental place (Assen station) which is manned all day and asked your questions. OV bikes are looked over before going back into service, so the risk of getting a non-runner is small. I cannot vouch for the larger automated stations, however … As far as foreign tourists are concerned, the system has a flaw in that the use of these bikes is linked to a subscription (10 euro/yr) on a Dutch address with a Dutch bank account. The reason behind this obviously being that they may know where to find you in case the bike goes missing, and to make the charge (3 euro/24 hrs, use OK for 3 consecutive days) in electronic money. But as the girl at the station cheerfully said, “If you have a visitor from abroad, why not let him/her rent a bike against your card?”. I suppose hotels in touristic cities like Amsterdam have specific accounts for their guests. And don’t forget that rental systems like this generally don’t accept credit cards. We think debit cards are cheaper. 17 June 2011 12:14


4 thoughts on “Massive number of train passengers take the OV-fiets

  1. I think this type of system could work with other railway companies, such as Amtrak, the largest train company in the US and Canada, Caltrain in the Bay Area, GO Transit near Toronto, or Metra in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. For example, if someone wanted to go to San Jose from San Francisco, they could
    go to Caltrain, take it to the station and cycle in San Jose.

  2. Cool post, thanks! Are you allowed to drop off your bike at a different location than where it was picked up? Also what types of bikes are they (low enough for children? pedal brakes only?)

    1. Dropping off the bike at a different location costs at 10 Euro surcharge, which is quite hefty given that basic rental costs are just 3.15 Euros for a 24-hour period.

      There’s usually just one type of bicycle available; at some places there is now (at a higher cost) the possibility to rent an e-bike instead.

  3. Not including OV-Fiets as a bike-sharing scheme is stupid. There are plenty of ways to disqualify systems which should not be disqualified. Boston’s Hubway, for instance, has said they are not a rental system, so that disqualifies them — or, it should.

    OV-Fiets needs to be released into a non-railway entity, tho, so it can expand appropriately.

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