Every weekday morning, I cross the road from my apartment, unhitch a dublinbike from its stand and seven minutes later I dock it at a stand in the city, two kilometers away.
To walk the same distance takes me 25 minutes. I can do a lot with that extra 18 minutes. Make that 36 minutes a day by repeating the commute in reverse.
Often, I have an errand to run during the day or a lunch meeting somewhere else in the city. Thanks to the bikes, everywhere is close at hand and getting there is as free as walking, aside from a tiny annual fee (€20).
In some ways, dublinbikes are an urban tool for using the city better, and for making it a better place. They reduce congestion and make roads safer for all cyclists.
They’re also fun to ride. The sturdy, well-designed bikes are built in Hungary by French company Mercier, which also supplies the Velo’V in Lyon and the Velib in Paris.
It was the French who started the third wave of shared bicycle schemes with a trial in Rennes in 1997 using computerisation.
A group of self-styled anarchists first tried leaving a handful of free “white” bikes around Amsterdam in the summer of 1965. The bikes quickly disappeared. The second wave was a coin-retrieval system operated in cities such as Copenhagen a few years later. The bicycles were poorly constructed and just as prone to abuse as white bikes.
Computerisation for effective fleet management, good design and careful planning — optimum distance between docking stations is around 300m — has led to the global explosion of bicycle share schemes in recent years, especially following the much admired launch of the Paris Velib in 2007.
There are now more than 600 cities with share schemes. The biggest is in China where the city of Wuhan alone has 90,000 public bicycles.
When travelling, shared bicycles can be pretty handy for sight-seeing. I’ve used them to tour Paris, London, Vienna, Toronto, Washington and Berlin, and I suspect that’s the way some people use them in Dublin.
It’s often claimed that dublinbikes, launched by the City of Dubin with French billboard company JCDecaux and now sponsored by Coca-Cola Zero, is one of the most successful schemes in the world, based on numbers of subscribers and trips taken per head of population.
For me, they’re an absolutely essential part of this city’s experience; it’s hard to imagine Dublin without them.