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Transport firms launch new bike hire system

PubliBike is for spontaneous cyclists

Three of Switzerland’s key mobility firms have joined forces to launch a new system for hiring bicycles.

PubliBike is currently undergoing a test phase in Lucerne; the goal is for the service to be available throughout Switzerland.

Bike hire itself is nothing new in outdoorsy, ecologically-minded Switzerland; what is different about this service is that it caters especially to spontaneous cyclists going for quick rides.

“PubliBike is just for short-term rentals – for a few hours within the city or over short distances,” project manager Mirjam Wietlisbach told She works for Rent a Bike, which has launched the PubliBike project in cooperation with PostBus and Swiss Federal Railways.

In comparison, Rent a Bike – with its 200 rental stations and 4,500 bicycles – is geared at people planning to go on a day- or week-long tour, said Wietlisbach.

Since August 16 there have been eight PubliBike bicycles, including to electric models, parked between the train station and Lucerne’s Culture and Convention Centre.

“The place we got in front of the centre is perfect to showcase something like this,” said Wietlisbach, a cyclist herself.

A small pool of volunteers will test the service over the next six weeks. Starting in autumn, additional PubliBike stations are scheduled to open in places like Brig, Delémont, Kreuzlingen, Rapperswil, St Gallen, Solothurn and Thun.

The sturdy bicycles have been specially designed for public use – meaning that they are better equipped to fend off vandals and the elements.

Why rent?

“A programme like this makes people aware that cycling is another way to get around the city, rather than by car,” said Gerhard Tubandt, spokesman for the Swiss Association for Transport and Environment. As he pointed out to, there are other such programmes in other parts of Switzerland.

He mentioned Velopass, for example, which has 75 stations and 800 bikes in the western part of the country and in canton Ticino. If you borrow one of its bikes, you can return it at a different  station to the one where you picked it up.

“That’s a great advantage if you’re using it in Lausanne and you want to ride downhill to the lake,” Tubandt said.

 He cautioned that there could be some confusion if there were various bike rental programmes active in a particular city, but said of PubliBike: “I’m sure this will be a success”.  While in Paris recently, Tubandt himself rented a bike. There he noticed it was used primarily by tourists.

“But if I go to Lucerne by train, I could easily borrow a bike for a couple of hours and maybe take a ride along the lake,” he said.

Riding for pleasure is what brought a trio of German friends into Bernrollt (“Bern rolls”) at the train station in Bern. It has several sister branches around the nation, such as Genèveroule.

Kai, Henrik and Jan told that they had arrived in Switzerland the previous day.

“Last night we were talking about visiting a friend, and we realised that it would be a really long walk. So we decided to get bikes,” Kai said. He and his friends were impressed with the price, which they said was less than what they’d pay in Germany. Bernrollt charges nothing for the first four hours, and then SFr1 ($1.3) per hour after that.

Sonna, a Swiss woman, had quite a different reason for renting.

“I have an electric bike, but it just broke and I really need to get to an appointment,” she said. She was lucky that there was one available at a nearby branch; the e-bikes tend to go fast.

More bike lanes, please

As the opportunities to hire bikes increase, the conditions could be better.

“In cities, if you travel by bicycle it’s not always so safe, so it would be good to have more bike lanes,” said Tubandt, noting that green city politicians tend to be supportive of infrastructure for bikes.

Wietlisbach agrees: “Almost every city wants to improve and increase bicycle infrastructure.” Yet she would even call the nation a “bicycle country”.

“The Swiss countryside is better than the city, but Switzerland is really a paradise for cyclists,” Wietlisbach said.

PubliBike bicycles and e-bikes are available around the clock on a self-service basis. Regular users can use a membership card to access the two-wheelers. Tourists and spontaneous riders can rent using a credit card.

For members, the hourly rate is SFr2 for a regular bike, and SFr4 for an e-bike. Others pay SFr6 or SFr12. Annual membership costs SFr60 for a national membership, and SFr40 for regional.

In a later phase, access to other bike-sharing services with the PubliBike membership will also be considered.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR