Wednesday, July 4, 2012

(Not Just) Tandems for Bike Share / “Angelica, Torera and Juan - Public bicycles in Europe, sometime in the middle of the first half of the 21 Century”

In Autumn 2011 I wrote a short article in conjunction with an invitation to be part of a round table discussion at 3as Jornadas de la Bicicleta Pública which took place from 13-16 October 2011 in Santander, Cantabria, Spain.
"Angelica, Torera and Juan -Public bicycles in Europe, sometime in the middle of the first half of the 21 Century” was published in May in Spanish as "Angélica, Torera y Juan. Bicicletas públicas en Europa, en algún momento de la primera mitad del siglo XXI"in the book Balance General de la Bicicleta Pública en España by Esther Anaya and Albert Castro and published by Fundación ECA - BUREAU VERITAS.
This Spanish-version is available at this link in ISSUU format. 
To introduce the English version, I thought I would sketch out an idea dealing with bike share for mobility-challenged persons, which is the focus of part of my article... 

Version of bicycle from OPENbike I did for a presentaton in April 2010 for the OBIS European Bike Share Project. Slow Factory (Green Idea Factory at the time) collaborated with LOTS Design and Koucky & Partners on OPENbike, which won one of two first prizes in the Copenhagen Bike Share Design competition in 2009.

There are bicycle designs that allow mobility-challenged persons - those without the full use of their legs, who have problems balancing, sight or hearing issues, seizures, etc. - to participate in physical activity and social interaction or even to have independent mobility... even in the city.

It is curious that none of the bike share operations in the U.S. - or particularly those operated with public money such as Capital Bikeshare in Washington D.C. - have bicycle for mobility-challenged persons. This seems to be a violation - even an extreme one - of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. (Of course, a similar question is relevant for bike share in the EU, China and other places. See this link for an example of how a carshare operator in the U.S. offers access to its members with disabilities.)

For the individual with sufficient vision or hearing, a handcycle (without full use of legs) or tricycle (balance issues) might be a solution (the elderly mother of a friend of mine who has an artificial leg uses a normal pedelec/electric-assist bike). For persons who for whatever reason cannot ride alone, a tandem bicycle - for use with a friend or assistant - might be a solution*. 

Tandems for Bike Share! (Adapting Bike Share for Tandem Bicycles)

I do not believe that there are any technical barriers (hardware, software, bicycle design) for this. However, tandems are expensive, especially if built in small numbers. Also bike share parking might need to be modified to allow a longer bike in any slot, and probably only some could have this modification. Then what I would is:

1 - Add something to the software/user data that allows a normal bikeshare member to use tandem bikes only if they have a doctor-certified reason for not being able to ride their own bike (vision-impairment, balance issues, unpredictable seizures, etc). This person would check out a bike on their account and travel with any sighted person, and would be liable for both (or if the bike share operator is really uptight then this person's normal assistance person, if any, but that might violate at least the spirit of ADA).

2 - There would be a limited number of these and probably adding a reservation feature would be difficult to add to the software, so no guarantee that one will be found. (However, the pricing plan for these users could enable them for longer for no additional cost in order to enable a round trip journey with a short appointment/time spent at destination).

3 - If there is an over-capacity of tandems or simply a lot of them provided, they could be available for anyone at a higher price or the normal price if both people are users (software).

4 - As many vision-impaired people have guide dogs, there is also no technical barrier to adding sidecars to a tandem.

5 - Actually, sidecars on bikeshare for normal dogs would be fun but these people have their own special bikes (however, the limited cargo capacity of nearly all bike share bikes is a problem for people who want to do anything with  them besides short commutes or very light shopping.)

Cambio (Belgium)

* Cargo bicycles - also for carrying children - are also missing in bike share. OPENbike - the design I worked on - mentioned this and it is also included in the presentation of Velobility (PDF). However, the only cargo bikes I know of incorporated into existing sharing programmes are part of carshare schemes in Ghent, Belgium and Leipzig, Germany -- more should follow (I like the idea of carshare members being able to use a cargobike when a normal car is overkill for a particular journey...)


Angelica, Torera and Juan - Public bicycles in Europe, sometime in the middle of the first half of the 21 Century”


In this bit of speculative mobility fiction* I consider the growing integration of the “mobile urban lifestyle” in Europe – and it is probably carfree as well but I am not explicit it. Utopias are fine and dystopias are somehow just as easy to describe, so I try to mix the two – that is what life is like and will always be like for most people. “Public bicycles” are also not an island unto themselves and beyond integration with collective PT they are also indivisible from the political and social reality of the now and future worlds.

* Note that some of the information in footnotes is also the result of consultation with a fortune teller.

Angelica – In charge of business development at a major European public transport operator

It was destined to be an interesting day for Angelica, the vice-president for business development at a European public transport operator headquartered in Istanbul and Madrid – she was based in the latter. But she did not know how it would turn out.

Her company took a risk in the solution she offered to big tender for feeder (“first/last mile”) solutions for the regional railway in a growing region in Central Europe , but Angelia sensed early on that her idea was the right one:

The suggestion that public transport companies become complete mobility providers was pushed by UITP starting in the 2010's1, and while there were a few examples of this type of philosophy such as in Bordeaux, France2, by that time and a few more later in the strategies of PT operators, it took some time – many years - before it was reflected in tenders.

And still, many were limited to focus only on varied collective modes, rather than including both motorized and non-motorized individual transport solutions.

This tender was a gift for a relatively radical thinker like Angelica, and to prepare for it she did extensive research of inhabitants of the hilly areas in the mandated catchment area of the PT hubs that were the subject of this tender.

What she found was not surprising for her at least: People wanted to have a variety of options to and from their homes to the hub, and to also vary them for individual journeys, in other words many loved the idea of cycling to a station and taking a bus or taxi back. Or the reverse, as long as the way home was on an electric bike.

The clincher for Angelika – what finally and absolutely convinced her – was the EU-law which had recently come into effect that mandated a guaranteed minimum lifespan of electric bikes – specifically, it standardized both battery connections3 and mandated that future upgrades would be low-cost. Somewhat ironically, this legislation was the result of an early EU-law that banned cadmium4. This came after lobbying from Brazil after the Brazilian Space Agency discovered what was eventually called lunaterium – a cheap and safe version of its toxic Terran cousin – on the Earth's closest neighbor. The low-cost lunaterium helped expand the pedelec market but this also meant a lot of cheap bikes were built.

Her solution and her company's bid was to provide pedelecs (with support infrastructure) buses and taxis (the latter which could also be shared). There would be three price levels (bike or bus/shared taxi/private taxi) all of which would be tied into a smart card/NFC device for residents of the area. As far as she knew, only her company was proposing bicycles as part of a solution.

Would her company's bid be successful? She found it hard to wait for the answer.

Torera – Modern young woman in the city optimized for cycling

Torera clicked on “send” in the communication application on her iPad 9... off went her dissertation “2012-2015: Spain's Slow Emergence from Economic Disaster” to her advisor at the University. With a touch on her screen and then a few strokes on the keyboard built into the table at the café – it lived in a compartment which automatically cleaned it after each use – she reserved a “Touch” and was told it would be just outside and around the corner. She put the iPad back in it's case and walked towards the street door of the smart café after paying her EUR 11- bill for a coffee. Torera visited this place often and the prices were no object, as her family owned the company which, with EU social cohesion funding, introduced the robotic bull and crowd-controlled android torero to Spain starting in 2015. 5

As she exited, she was nearly hit by a someone on a bicycle.

“Hey, stop!” she yelled, not really loudly as the cyclist was not going so fast – he turned around, looking a little embarrassed. “Do you know you're not supposed to ride on the pavement here?” she asked of him.

“I'm sorry,” said the man, who was looked to be from East Asia, “In school in China,” he said in perfect Spanish, “We learned that you people tolerate cycling on the pavement.”
“We used to,” answered Torera6, “but we finally understood that it was not scalable.” She then pointed to the bike lanes on either side of the busy street – busy with streetcars and a few shared automobiles – it was related to the Spanish law of 2016 which made it illegal to take pedestrian space for cycling and to require bike lanes wide enough for cargo bikes to pass one another. “Bikes need some space to move safely, especially when there is a lot of them.”
Torera beckoned the man to come closer and stand next to her as she activated the This is How it Was7application on her iPhone. On the screen they saw the street scene from 2011 superimposed onto the current one8. Both smiled at the solutions which were successful at the time but not good enough anymore...

Torera walked around the corner and saw three bikes parked on the pavement, three “Touch-Bicis” – which most people just called “Touch” for short. Which bike was hers? It did not matter: The system only told her that at least one bike was available at a particular location. If she touched her NFC mobile phone9 to any bike with a green blinking light it would become hers10.

Juan – Mobility-impaired lawyer and tourist

He arrived early in the morning. There it was, just as he expected, a three-wheeled pedelec11 . Juan, a lawyer specializing in electronic privacy, moved from the platform area of the Brussels South train station – he had just arrived from Catalonia via Paris. Using his NFC-equipped phone he released the lock on his bike and then placed his bag in the cargo basket and also his crutches.. He recalls visiting the “Capital of Europe” a few years before and having to rent a normal bike instead of being able to use either of the city's bike share systems. This was complicated but he could talk to the staff and get some advice on riding around the city. The staff was also curious but respectful about how he cycled around considering that he had muscular dystrophy.

He took the familiar route to his hotel and locked his bike in front. He put his bag on his back, grabbed his crutches and went into the hotel. He bypassed the reception and went straight to his room, opening it with his phone12. He put down his bag and laid down on the bed for rest.

“Hmmm, all the way to my hotel room and haven't spoked to a soul,” he thought, before dozing off.


He had no idea how to get to the European Parliament and while he could use Google SuperEarth on his phone, he decided to do it by feel13. He had used this system before in other cities, but as he found out later in Brussels it did not seem as finely-tuned, e.g. in regards to hills: It did not indicate a turn far enough in advance – this would save both physical and mental effort if one knew they had to turn before a big hill, or when they had to turn whilst going down one.

At the EP he met the assistant to MEP Ivana Bicicenko, with whom had an important discussion scheduled.  In recent years more and more seamless mobility systems around Europe had removed the possibility for anonymous use (e.g. using paper tickets, paying the driver etc.). While this generally made things easier and cheaper for both customers and operators, the supposedly secure data was in a few cases “accidentally” leaked by operators but in quite a few more was hacked, and often maliciously. MEP Bicicenko was speaking to Juan in regards to the backlash against “NFC-ism” as it threatened the goals for use of every type of mobility except for walking, riding one's own bike, and private driving of automobiles.


Angelica celebrated that night as her company won the contract, but awoke the next morning to a surprise general strike of public transport workers in several countries in Europe, organized via social media. While she helped her colleagues deal with an angry public in Madrid (and beyond), both Torera and Juan found themselves without bicycles and tricycles, since the staff who managed the individual solutions in Seville and Brussels were union-members, the same as their colleagues responsible for collective ones. 14

  1. “Cómo llegar a ser un proveedor de movilidad real - Movilidad combinada: el transporte público en combinación con otros medios de transporte, como el coche compartido, el taxi y la bicicleta…” - UITP, Abril 2011,
  1. VCub est un système de location de Vélos en libre service mis en place sur l'ensemble de la communauté urbaine de Bordeaux (CUB) depuis le20 février 2010 et géré par Keolis. -
  1. “When one size doesn't fit all – What you need to know about e-bike charging interfaces.” - Cycling Mobility issue 1/2011, June 2011.
  1. Toxicity of Cadmium – Before lunaterium, cadmium became the subject of use restrictions that eventually made its use in private urban automobiles very, very expensive, one of the main reasons that private car use in EU cities had dropped an average of 2% per year since 2012. As liquid fuel prices also had risen significantly, private urban car use never went back to 2011 levels.
  1. In the year 2020, robots have replaced humans in boxing. Charlie Kenton loses a chance to become a boxing champion when robots take over, and he becomes a small-time promoter. When he has difficulty making a living, he reluctantly teams up with his son Max to build a robot that can contend for the championship.” - synopis of the film “Real Steel”, set for release in Spain on 2 December 2011.
  1. Augmented reality app reveals the world's hidden stories” - 5 August 2011, “Springwise blog”.
  1. Imperfection and Flexiblity: What Seville's bicycle network can teach designers in the United States”. - 10 May 2011, “Cycling Mobility blog”.’s-bicycle-network-can-teach-designers-in-the-united-states
  1. NFC” stands for Near Field Communication, communication technology to wirelessly at short range and at a high frequency that enables data exchange between devices less than 10cm apart. (Source: Wikipedia).
  1. In the mid-2010's after the introducion of new, perfected “floating public bicycle” systems (without fixed stands), the on-street, location-fixed, single-company facilities of “3rd generation bike share” were determined by EU lawmakers to be a monopolization of public space (unlike e.g. bus stops or railway platforms, all of which could serve different mobility providers). Bike share operators rejected sharing the fixed stands; the result was that fixed facilities – with the exception of locations such as railway hubs - were made illegal in EU/EEA countries. From then on what came to be called “individual, self-powered, optionally-motorized public transport” or ISOPT, had to be based on “floating” architecture.
  1. The incorporation of handcycles into what was then called “bikeshare” was pioneered in Gandia, Valencia in 2010. Juan's mother, an MEP from Santander, Cantabria, initiated the legislation which led to “full-inclusion” being mandated at the European level in ISOPT.
  1. Using NFC-equipped phones for hotel check-in was pioneered in Sweden in 2010, and thus connected to public transport systems already taking advantage of NFC for payment purposes.
  1. Touch-based directional devices let users feel directions”
  1. Liking Cycling and Bike Striking”, Cycling Mobility blog, 4 July 2011. (Unfortunately, Cycling Mobility magazine ceased publication at the end of 2011 and deleted their website).



Outdoor Gear Distributor said...

Hats off to these awesome cycling article. Hope to read more of your worthwhile blogs.

Slow Factory said...

B-trike prototype brings versatility and accessibility to bikesharing

Bike rental in Seville said...

I think Seville really is the best city for biking in Spain