28 Mar What’s going on with public bicycles in Madrid?
The new BiciMAD system in Madrid has been facing significant issues. The system has been plagued by technical problems, leaving many bikes inoperable and causing frustration for users. Additionally, there have been issues with vandalism and theft, as well as a lack of available docking stations in some areas. These problems have resulted in a large number of abandoned bikes throughout the city, and many users have reported difficulty in finding working bikes to use. How did this happen?
It isn’t new that public biking systems, also known as bike-share programs, are becoming increasingly popular in urban areas around the world. These programs provide a convenient and affordable way for people to get around, while also reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. Management in the hands of municipal transport companies, investment in the maintenance of the service, as well as simplicity in the procedures, are some of the keys for a public bike-share system to promote a culture of active mobility.
In the last weeks, it became widespread news that Bicimad, Madrid’s public biking system, was being severely criticized by users and experts. In a recent article published in La Vanguardia, Alvaro Heredia, mobility expert and manager of the Municipal Transport Company (EMT) in Madrid when Bicimad was municipalized, warned that, «as in any public transport system, the user penalizes the lack of reliability» and, for example, if the user encounters, when leaving the bike, with a full station three times, he or she will stop using the system.
This warning made by Heredia is one of the central issues to understand the present conflict with Bicimad: infrastructure. According to El País, it all began on March 7, when the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, launched the capital’s new public bicycle system with a powerful message to the people of Madrid less than 80 days before the elections: all users will be able to use the service free of charge from March 7 until July 31. Two weeks later, the chaos of disappeared bicycles, both full and empty stations and the poor conditions of bicycles exploded in social media.
The other central aspect of the conflict is the digital infrastructure, that means, the software system that lets users use the bikes. The new Bicimad system includes a new application to use it and new bikes, while continuing to use the old ones and the old application. A coexistence that, from day one, is generating chaos and uncertainty among users, who have dropped 20% since Almeida is in the City Council.
Everything gets worse when those two problems collide. What is happening right now with Bicimad is that during these last 15 days of coexistence, the management of both infrastructures has been chaotic: the new bicycles cannot be loaded in the old stations, nor can they be anchored, to avoid theft. And the old ones, the same, but in the new stations.
The conflict with Madrid’s biking system is, in these ways, an example of how state planning is crucial for the successful installation and implementation of public biking systems. Without proper planning, there is a risk of insufficient infrastructure and poor interaction between digital systems and urban implementation. When these risks aren’t properly assessed, as it happened with the new Bicimad system, public cycling gets terribly damaged. And that’s a major blow to sustainable mobility.