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Bike sharing is on the verge of becoming an integral part of public transportation in cities across the globe.

This system of impromptu bike renting is helping urban areas reduce automotive traffic and pollution while providing locals and tourists with a convenient, cheap and healthy means of transport.

Currently, there are nearly 300 organized bike sharing programs worldwide. That number is growing – and not just in the West. In India, for example, the Ministry of Urban Development is preparing to launch a 10-city public bike scheme as part of its “Mission for Sustainable Habitat”. 

So how does bike sharing work? In most cities, visitors can purchase short-term subscriptions at bike stations themselves. Just walk up to a station’s electronic kiosk, choose the duration for which you need access to the service, and swipe your credit card. You will receive an unlocking code which you can then use to release a bike from the docking station. Then you can start exploring the city via bicycle. When you reach your destination, find a nearby station and return your bike. Make sure to lock the bike carefully by pushing the front wheel into an empty dock. Most docks will show a green light and/or make a beeping sound when bikes are correctly secured.

Long-term subscriptions can usually be purchased online. During the time of your subscription (however short or long), you can rent and return a bike as many times as you want.

Bike sharing is a fun, easy, environmentally friendly way to explore a new place. Here are eight cities with great 24-hour bike sharing programs that travellers should know about. 

Paris
Although community bicycle sharing has been around since at least the 1960s, Paris’s Vélib’ became the first high-profile program to spark global interested in organized bike sharing when it launched to great success in 2007. The program currently has about 20,000 bikes and 1,800 bike stations (one located every 300 metres), yielding about 50 million unique rides annually.

The details: Vélib’ required subscriptions are available for 1.70 euros per day, 8 euros per week, or 29 euros per year. Once you’ve subscribed, half-hour rides are free but each additional half-hour costs 1 euro for up to one-and-a-half hours. After that, each additional half-hour costs 2 euros.

Hangzhou, China
With more than 50,000 bikes and 2,050 bike stations, the Chinese city of Hangzhou is home to the world’s largest bike sharing program. Bike sharing is well integrated with other forms of public transport, with bike stations available near bus and water taxi stops. 

The details: For tourists, a refundable deposit of 300 yuan is required to take out Hangzhou Public Bikes. Hour-long rides are free. Each additional hour costs 1 yuan each, for up to three hours. After that, each additional hour costs 3 yuan.

Washington DC
Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare program is the largest of its kind in the United States. Currently, demand for bikes outweighs supply.

The details: Capital Bikeshare memberships are available for $5 per day, $15 for five days, $25 per month or $75 per year. Once you’ve purchased a membership, half-hour rides are free and each additional half-hour costs $1.50 for up to one-and-a-half hours. After that, each additional half-hour costs $6.

Mumbai, India
There are two bike sharing programs in Bombay: FreMo, which stands for “Freedom to Move”, and the student-run Cycle Chalao!, which translates to “Come on, let’s cycle!”. Both are small programs, but they are growing into a movement. Cycle Chalao! has recently teamed up with India’s national government to launch citywide programs across the subcontinent.

The details: Find FreMo’s various membership and pricing options at its website. For Cycle Chalao!’s rates, visit its stations near universities in Mumbai.

London
London’s Barclays Cycle Hire has only been operating for about a year, but it’s already quite user friendly. Since launching, casual users have gone on more than one million unique rides. Its interactive map plots out the city’s docking stations, providing real-time information on the number of bikes and parking spaces available at each one.

The details: Barclays Cycle Hire costs 1 pound per day, 5 pounds per week or 45 pounds per year. Half-hour rides are free. For longer rides, additional usage charges apply. 

Mexico City
Last year, the populous and traffic-heavy Mexico City surprised the world by launching the EcoBici bike sharing program. Despite the city’s lack of bike lanes, EcoBici has around 30,000 registered members – and reported accidents have fortunately been few and far between.

The details: EcoBici riders have just one option: a year-long subscription for 300 pesos, which grants them an unlimited number of 45-minute rides. For longer rides, additional usage charges apply. Remember to return your bike within 24 hours, though, or you will incur a penalty of 5,000 pesos. 

Melbourne, Australia
To introduce tourists to a new way of exploring the city, Melbourne, Australia is offering a Bike Share Tour. If you are already accustomed to bike sharing, opt instead for a Bicycle Tour, including a trip to Swanston Street, the Yarra River and/or the Port Phillip Bay.

The details: Melbourne Bike Share mandatory subscriptions are available for 2.50 Australian dollars per day, 8 Australian dollars per week, or 50 Australian dollars per year. You can rent up to two bikes at the same time. If you need helmets, participating 7-11 stores sell them for 5 Australian dollars each (you can then return them to get 3 Australian dollars back each). Half-hour rides are free. For longer rides, additional usage charges apply.

Dublin
Exploring Dublin via bicycle is an age-old pastime for travellers to Ireland. Now, the dbs, or dublinbikes program has made this mode of transport even more convenient for visitors. While this bike share is currently modest in size, it is doing very well and has plans to expand rapidly.  

The details: The dublinbikes program has 44 stations and 550 bikes. Visitors can either purchase a long-term hire card for 10 euros or a 3-day ticket for 2 euros. Only 15 bike stations have electronic kiosks for purchasing short-term tickets, though. Find those stations here. Half-hour rides are free. For longer rides, additional usage charges apply.

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