Bike scheme booms despite poor cycle paths
Switzerland's first bike-sharing scheme is moving up a gear with a new network opening this week between Vevey and La Tour-de-Peilz, east of Lausanne.
Yet despite the success of the ride-and-go cycle programme, western Switzerland continues to lag behind German-speaking regions and other parts of Europe in developing suitable paths and infrastructure for cyclists.
From the end of July, some 45 bicycles will be available at three drop-off points between Vevey and La Tour-de-Peilz as part of the Suisse Roule bike-sharing scheme, which was officially launched on June 26.
The Swiss system is fairly simple. You take out a subscription - daily, monthly or annual - at a tourist office or online and you receive a magnetic card, which is used a pick up a white bike from one of the stands.
You can then cycle to your destination and drop the bike off at another stand.
The bike-hire plan was inspired by similar schemes across Europe, the largest being Velib in Paris, that are designed to encourage green, healthy and cheap travel.
The new bikes join a fast-growing network, which includes 120 cycles based between Lausanne and Morges, with docking stations on the Lausanne University and Lausanne Federal Institute of Technology campuses, among others.
Another part of the network is due to be inaugurated this autumn in Yverdon, taking the total number of bikes to 370.
"There is a great interest and I'm convinced that the network will develop at the national level," Suisse Roule's director, Lucas Girardet, told swissinfo.ch.
Local authorities from across the country are interested in adopting the system, including six towns in German-speaking regions and two in Italian-speaking Switzerland, he explained.
Several small communities in western Switzerland have also contacted him to set up a local network for touristic purposes.
A number of Vaud-based companies are interested in completing the network by setting up drop-off points at their firms to encourage staff to cycle to work.
And an agreement has also been reached with Mobility Carsharing to offer special subscription rates that include bike sharing starting in September.
However, the future of the bicycle remains uncertain in Switzerland.
While some 20-40 per cent of Danes or Dutch cycle in urban areas, in Switzerland the average is around nine per cent (15 per cent in Bern, 20 per cent in Basel and Winterthur, nine per cent in Geneva).
And according to a 2005 study, only two per cent of citizens cycle to work in canton Vaud.
According to Benoît Lambert, author of a book on urban development, "Cyclopolis, ville nouvelle", with the exception of several countries and cities – especially in northern Europe, or one or two places in Switzerland – the bicycle often remains an afterthought in urban planning.
"Development between Rolle and Nyon is very poor," Hubert Silvain, a planner from Nyon, told the newspaper, 24 Hours. "We are one of the richest regions in the world and we are not capable of offering the population the means to cycle between Lausanne and Geneva in good conditions."
In January, the Swiss Bicycle Advocacy Association, or Pro Vélo Suisse, a cycling lobby association, launched petitions in various regions asking for more cycle paths. In French-speaking Switzerland the group has already collected 10,000 signatures.
"Compared with German-speaking Switzerland the promotion of cycling in western Switzerland has been neglected," Florence Germond, president of Pro Vélo cycling association for western Switzerland, told swissinfo.ch.
"We really want to raise awareness among politicians about the extraordinary potential of bicycles in urban areas as they can reduce air and noise pollution, and allow people to remain in good health."
Aware of the frustrations, Vincent Krayenbühl, head of the cantonal mobility service, said people should remain patient.
"A cantonal cycling promotional strategy is being prepared [to be presented this autumn]. It's a long-term job which involves many partners," he told 24 Hours, adding that it would soon result in a first series of measures.
The cycling strategy is being prepared at the same time as the planning of the cantonal road network for the period up to 2020.
Head of the infrastructure department, François Marthaler, a member of the Green Party and keen cyclist, therefore has the tricky task of reviewing finances and finding a compromise solution with his colleagues.
But Germond says it is now time for action and no more talking: "By the end of 2012 we want a project before the Vaud government, not just with good intentions, but actions – either legislative changes to incite communes to install cycling infrastructure or a financial credit line."
Simon Bradley, swissinfo.ch
Suisse Roule started life as the free bike-hire scheme, Lausanne Roule, which began in June 2004. The organisation has grown considerably and now employs 45 people, of whom eight are full-time staff, as well as offering training to asylum seekers and unemployed.
The new subscription bike-sharing scheme comprises three networks: Lausanne-Morges; Vevey-La Tour-de-Peilz and Yverdon (to open in autumn). Total cost: SFr800,000, 60% from sponsoring, 20% from public authorities, 20% income from subscriptions.
Suisse Roule has joined forces with free bike-hire schemes in Geneva, Bern, Neuchâtel, Sion, Thun and Zurich.
The Velib bike-sharing scheme in Paris, the largest system of its kind in the world, was launched on July 15, 2007.
Ten thousand bicycles were introduced to the city with 750 automated rental stations, each with fifteen or more bikes/spaces. This number has since grown to 20,000 bicycles and 1,450 stations, roughly one station every 300 metres throughout the city centre. However, 8,000 bikes have "disappeared" since introduction.
Similar bike-sharing schemes exist in La Rochelle, Rennes and Lyon in France, as well as in Brussels, Vienna and Barcelona. It is also being copied overseas in London, San Francisco and Singapore.
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