Bike-sharing had a banner year in 2013, with a 60% increase in new programs launched worldwide. That momentum hasn’t flagged; 68 cities around the world have launched bike-share programs this year, says Russell Meddin, who manages The Bike-Sharing World Map. That’s an average of two a week, and it brings the total number of bike-share programs internationally to 730.
And the country with the fastest build-out of sharable bike systems isn’t one known for its urban innovation or environmental consciousness. In almost every category, China tops the global bike-share charts.
The Middle Kingdom surpassed Italy this year to become the country with the most programs, says the Earth Policy Institute. In fact, of the 20 biggest bike share programs on the planet, all but four are in China. The exceptions are Paris, London, Barcelona, and New York (and the last two tie for #20):
As you can see, the biggest program in the world is Hangzhou, with 78,000 bikes (though Wuhan reportedly had 100,000 as of Oct. 2013, bike-share experts question the city’s reliability, according to Bike-sharing Blog). The city in eastern China launched its program with in 2008, offering 2,800 bikes; to lower the risk of theft, the bikes had fixed gears. But it’s not the only city in China where a bike-share program is booming. Beijing will beat out Paris as the capital city with the biggest bike-share system, with 24,000 bikes by the end of 2014.
Sure, some of that has to do with the sheer size of Chinese cities. But the rapid build-out of China’s bike-share programs also speaks to another way it’s setting itself apart from programs in the US and Europe. The majority of bike-share programs in richer countries charge users fees or rely on corporate sponsors for funding. London bike-sharers pay£90 ($149) a year, and New York’s CitiBike charges users an annual fee of $95 (plus tax), and Paris’ program costs €29 ($38). In China, city governments pay for bike-sharing the way they do any other form of public transportation programs—meaning that the country’s millions of users are biking for free.