On Two Wheels: The Bike Hire Soap Opera

Krakow was the first city in Poland to operate a bike hire scheme, even before London or New York for that matter, and then it became the first to lose one. Now it’s setting a new trend with the development of it’s own genre: the bike hire soap opera – a dramatic and hysterical tale of barely believable reversals of fortune.

The BikeOne rental scheme started in Krakow in 2008, with a few understandable teething problems. The project was funded by the EU and BikeOne was contracted to operate its humble fleet of 120 bicycles from twelve or fourteen docking stations.

It was small, it was incompatible with the municipal smart card, it closed for the winter, but it was there, and long before Wrocław or Warsaw launched their successful bike rental schemes.

When BikeOne’s contract expired, the city accepted a new tender from a company called RoweRes. Soon, it was discovered that RoweRes had inherited the bikes, but not the software that controlled the rental system. A legal battle ensued, and RoweRes eventually withdrew from the stage, leaving Krakow’s rental bikes non-operational.

Last year, it was announced that the city (or, more precisely, the notorious ZIKIT agency responsible for transport infrastructure) would run the bike scheme on its own. Indeed, the bikes became available again – but only for a day or two before the system closed for the winter. And then came an invitation for new tenders, somewhat contradicting the earlier communiqué that the city itself would run the scheme. Miraculously, the tender process was carried out to plan, and a winner was selected on time.

Just as officials were engaged in presenting the new-old bike system to the excited media, someone pulled the plug. Again, it seemed, the new company had not secured the rights to the software it needed. At least this is the version of the story told by the other company that – by coincidence surely – lost the bid but sells the software. In the old days, we immobilised bikes by unscrewing the valves or slashing the tyres, today you have to be a lawyer.

Happily, after some legal wrangling, the bikes are now back on the streets. We’ll see for how long. By the way, the scheme is now known as KMK Bike. While in London they call them Boris Bikes, after London mayor Boris Johnson, nobody in Krakow would dare to call them Jacek Bikes, which is probably a good thing for Mr Majchrowski.

The bike soap opera may or may not be over, but there’s more drama on the horizon. One question in Krakow’s May 25 referendum is: “Do you think Krakow should build more cycle paths?” I might add the secondary question: “Do you believe you will have the chance to answer this question in a legally binding way?”

Krakow was the first city in Poland to operate a bike hire scheme, and now it’s the first in Poland to have a cycling referendum. As far as I know, it may even be the first in the whole universe. For me, the answer is simple – let’s pedal forward into history! Just be sure to bring your own bike, in case the rental system is down again.

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