Many cities are now seeing the value of having a community of bike riders. City governments are adding bike lanes, riders are forming groups, and routes and tips are posted online. "Utility cycling" is a term refers to cycling not done primarily for fitness or recreation, but as a means of transport. Bike sharing and inexpensive rentals are also gaining in popularity for both tourists and residents. Cities want people to get out there, and get riding.
Bicycle sharing systems allow for a number of bicycles to be easily accessible, either from stands are parked at strategic locations, and be shared among multiple users. This removes the difficulties of bike ownership such as loss from theft or vandalism, lack of parking or storage, and maintenance requirements.
There are several different types of programs.
Unregulated - Bicycles are left unlocked for use by anyone. These are often for a designated area such as university campuses or parks. This is the easiest to use system, except that it can be difficult to find bikes as they are usually in high demand. These programs usually suffer the worst loss as well.
By Deposit - A small cash deposit allows for the bike from a locked terminal or stand. Deposit is returned when the bike is turned back in. Because the deposit is less than the cost of the bike, it does not necessarily deter theft. Some programs now take credit card info to combat that factor.
Membership - In this version of the program, bicycles are kept either at volunteer-run hubs or at self-service terminal. Individuals must be registered with the program and are usually issued a membership card (this may actually be a smart card, via cell phone). Membership may cost a small fee per month, or be free.
Public-private partnership - These partnerships between a city's public service sector and a private agency are very popular and successful. The company supplies the city with the bikes and are allowed to advertise on the bikes and in other locations in the city. Users must purchase subscriptions with a credit card or debit card by paying a large, temporary deposit. If the bike is not returned within the subscription period, or returned with significant damage, the bike sharing operator withdraws money from the user's credit card account. Bikes are equipped with anti-theft and bike maintenance sensors. As an alternative, some programs are financed by public support.
Long-term Checkout - Also known as Bike Library models, these bicycles may be lent free of charge, for a refundable deposit, or for a small fee. A bicycle is checked out to one person who will typically keep the bike for several months. A disadvantage of this system is a lower usage frequency, around three uses per day on average as compared to 10 to 15 uses per day typically experienced with other bike sharing schemes.