From Monday no fewer than 500 new Czech-made electric bicycles will appear on the streets of Prague under the Freebike brand. Rental is via an app and users will be able to leave the bikes – which also work in traditional pedal mode – at “virtual stations” around the city. At the system’s launch on Thursday I spoke to Charles Butler of operators Homeport.
“Then it’s got a range of different features that you can use with the app to do different things, like for example pausing your rental or changing the settings so that you can have it more powerful or less powerful every time you rent the bike.
“You can also see, for example, how much energy you’re using and how much energy you’re giving back through the regenerative braking, all of which are absolutely unique in bike sharing.”
You say in your literature that it empowers local authorities. What do you mean by that?
“The Freebike is outside, on the streets, and it’s got to be good for everybody, not just those who are using it.
“In the software we have a system of virtual stations. If you don’t leave it at the virtual station – which is just a point on the map that you find in the app in your telephone – you have to pay extra money in some parts of Prague.
“And in other parts of Prague, which are red on the map, you have to leave it at the station.
“Local authorities can choose the level of control they have: how many stations there are, whether people can park at the station or in other places.
“That’s very important for them, to have a system which runs well in the town.”
Already in Prague we have a lot of e-scooters all over the place, which many people find annoying. Before that there were Segways. There are going to be 500 of these Freebikes – are you at all concerned that some people could also be annoyed by these?
“Well, for example, we are the only system in Prague 1, which Prague 1 has allowed to operate.
“The reason for that is precisely because it gives them that sort of control.
“We’ve been working very closely with the authorities for exactly this reason.
“A system can’t ignore the majority of people who won’t use it in fact.
“Everybody gets the benefit of better air, because there are less cars, less noise pollution.
“We think that if there are thousands of these bikes in the future, there will also be the proper parking and all those sorts of things, which there isn’t today.
Is Prague a good place for cycling in the first place? Often the streets are narrow, there are cobblestones.
“Prague as a city might have been designed for a bicycle, strangely enough, because you can’t drive through the centre of the city at all.
“Obviously the cobbled streets are not ideal.
“But the experience from other cities is that when there’s a bike sharing system there that people really like and use, then the city is ready to invest the money necessary to make the cycling infrastructure, which really costs a lot: the special cycle lanes, so that people can cycle perfectly.
“That’s after they see that normal people are using the system.
“Prague is not ideal right now for cycling, but we think that it will be attractive enough so that people will use it and then the politicians will think, This is a good idea – let’s really support cycling.
“Because cycling really is fantastic for a town.”
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