With the swipe of a finger, commuters will soon be able to grab a bike from Sliema, take a short ride to Gżira or Valletta, drop it off, and carry on with their day.
Nextbike Malta, the country’s first bike-sharing system, will start operations at the end of the month with 53 bike stations in 10 localities and nearly one station every 400 metres, as well as a small number of electric bikes.
A free mobile app will allow users to see the nearest stations and the number of bikes available at each one, and with the touch of a button, check out a bike and drop it off at any other Nextbike station.
The low-cost rentals will be charged in 30 minute blocks, and there will also be a yearly membership option for unlimited rides, which the company hopes will make it an attractive, hassle-free option for anyone hoping to incorporate cycling into their daily commute and other short journeys.
The company will also be sponsoring free cycling classes with trained instructors, to help people overcome any fears they may have over using bikes on Malta’s often busy roads
“We hope to achieve a modal shift in the way people think, and to have a direct impact on the problems of parking and congestion,” a Nextbike spokesman told the Times of Malta. “This isn’t only for residents and tourists: we also have a number of employers who are buying memberships for their employees to allow them to come to work by bike.”
The company will also be sponsoring free cycling classes with trained instructors, to help people overcome any fears they may have over using bikes on Malta’s often busy roads, and the spokesman said the system would serve as a more convenient alternative to ownership.
“Studies abroad have shown that the end cost to the individual of using a system like this is actually cheaper than owning your own bike, without any of the hassle of maintenance, parking or worrying about theft.”
Bike-sharing schemes are already a fixture in many major cities, among the most visible being London’s so-called Boris Bikes.
Nextbike itself currently operates in 14 countries, with 35,000 bikes across Europe, New Zealand and the US. A 2011 study based on the bike-share system in Barcelona found that improved health from increased physical activity far outweighed any additional mortality from crashes and the exposure to car exhaust – the equivalent of more than 75 deaths avoided for every incidence of death. The introduction of Nextbike in Malta follows another effort towards a ‘shared-economy’ solution to the perennial traffic problems.
For example, Transport Malta put out a call earlier this month for a national, app-based, car-sharing programme.