The first bike sharing system began in 1965 in Amsterdam by Luud Schimmelpenny, a Dutch industrial designer and politician, in association with Provo counterculture. His project was called White Bicycle Plan, and the idea was simple: he painted a certain number of bicycles white and left them around Amsterdam for everyone to use. The idea behind it was to reduce the number of cars and ease the traffic in urban areas. The attempt was a disaster: in only one month all the bicycles were stolen or thrown into a canal.
Fifty years later, the bike sharing system is up and running on 5 continents, 50 countries, 712 cities, and more than 806,000 bikes available in 37,500 docking stations. The idea of using a bike only when you need it is undeniably an attractive and successful one.
In Europe, Paris is the champion of bike sharing: Velib, began in 2010, with 18,000 bicycles and they have become part of the urban landscape. The Parisian scheme is the biggest in the world after China (Wuhan has 90,000 bicycles and Hangzhou 60,000).
In the UK the first city to adopt the bike-sharing scheme was Cambridge with the Green Bike Scheme and 300 bicycles. Cambridge was not a success though, with many cycles stolen or missing. That did not deter other cities from trying.
To be fair, we should add that it was Ken Livingstone, and not Boris Johnson, who began planning a scheme similar to the Velib to London. He consulted experts from Lyon, Brussels, Oslo, Copenhagen, Vienna, Berlin and Munich on the subject. But by the time the scheme was up and ready. Boris was in the hot seat and took all the credit. He said he hoped the bikes would become as common as black cabs and red buses in the capital.
Two years later, in March 2012, the scheme was so popular the number of bikes had already grown to 8,000 and 570 docking stations. In December 2013, there were 11,500 bikes, which is the number of vehicles available today, spread across 742 docking stations.