Like some 200 other cities around the world, Tel Aviv-Jaffa is now offering subscriptions for cyclists to pick up and drop off a pair of wheels in convenient locations
By Avigayil Kadesh
Buckle your helmets and release your kickstands: Tel Aviv has launched a citywide bike-rental network.
Tel-Ofan (ofanayim is Hebrew for “bicycle”) offers subscriptions at attractive prices to encourage residents to help reduce traffic tie-ups and pollution while getting fit and saving lots of shekels on gasoline.
The way it works is simple. Users sign up via Internet, toll-free phone number (*6070) or visiting City Hall. For now, only annual subscriptions are available, costing NIS 280 (about $64) or NIS 240 for local residents. Eventually, daily and weekly subscriptions will be sold as well.
When you want to get from Point A to Point B, you visit your nearby Tel Ofan station — there will be 75 by the end of May and another 75 in the near future, if all goes according to plan. Using an electronic key fob, you pick up the bicycle at one station and drop it off at another one near your destination. It’s free for the first half hour, and your “clock” restarts from zero if you leave the bike docked for at least 10 minutes.
“The purpose is that we want people to share the bikes,” explains Tel Aviv-Jaffa Economic Development Authority CEO Sharon Kenan, who heads the project. “While you’re doing whatever you’re doing, someone else will ride the bike you docked.” This is roughly the same way municipal bike-renting programs work in about 200 cities all over the world.
New bike lanes afoot
Though the idea may indeed be simple, it took three years of planning from the time Mayor Ron Huldai gave the assignment to the EDA until the pilot program was rolled out at the start of May.
The challenge was two-fold, says Kenan. One was to create a stable, sophisticated information technology system behind Tel-Ofan, and the other was to make sure that when a subscriber randomly arrives at a station, there will always be a bike waiting there in good condition — and there will be an available spot at which to dock it at the destination station.
“This is very hard to achieve,” says Kenan. “But we have special trucks going around the city balancing the inventory of bicycles from full stations to empty stations.”
He even called in the department of mathematics at Tel Aviv University to help. These students established formulas based on typical patterns of how bicycles move through the city, showing the optimum plan for moving them from one station to another. Each station is stocked with about 20 bikes.
To show it is totally serious about making bike riding an attractive alternative for Tel Aviv-Jaffa residents and people from other areas who arrive in the city by public transportation for work each day, the city is investing many millions of shekels to add to its existing 65 miles of bike lanes.
“We need more,” says Kenan. “In the last five years, we’ve invested NIS 10 million per year in this project, and for next five years the municipality has tripled the budget” for constructing bike lanes.
Learning from the experiences of other cities in dealing with possible theft, damage and vandalism of the fleet, Kenan says there are both physical and electronic protections in place, but did not elaborate for obvious reasons.