“People only complain about their availability.”
OV Fiets, OV short for Openbaar Vervoer which means public transport, and fiets meaning bicycle, so PT bikes, was started in 2003 by the NS rail company at a handful of large railway stations. With public transport, especially rail, the last part of the trip, getting from the station to your destination is always the tricky part. Where walking is too far or inconvenient, buses or taxis might help but they take up way more time in inner cities, and buses still don’t get you to the door of your destination. Basically anything within 20 minutes by bicycle (meaning 7km or so), the bike easily wins over any other mode of transport. OV Fiets was set-up for those distances, as a way to stimulate more people to take the train. The reasoning is that if there’s less friction to get from the station to your destination more people will choose the train over taking the car. Everyone in the Netherlands already has a bicycle to get to the railway station from home, the need is in the last leg of a trip.
Since 2004 when my work meant much more travel, I use the train as much as possible. On a train I can still work (or blog, I’m writing this on a train that just left The Hague), which isn’t the case in the car . That more than makes up for situations where a car might be faster. I started using OV Fiets early 2010 when their availability was expanded to general availability at railway stations across the country, beyond just the first handful they experimented with and some other bigger cities. Currently all railway stations provide OV Fietsen, large railway stations from multiple locations, and increasingly fully automated.
You pick up a bike when you arrive by train, and return it before taking your train home. Over 20.000 bikes are available across the country.
Wherever I go in the Netherlands I can pick up a bike and be on my way well within 5 minutes from getting off a train. My (free) subscription is connected to my public transport payment card. I swipe the card and get a bike. Each time I pick up a bike I get billed just under 4 Euro’s, which covers 24 hours. Once a month I get e-mailed an itemised bill, which is automatically paid from my bank account. A subscription allows you to pick-up 2 bikes at a time, which also comes in handy when we have guests for a day or two, to provide them with their own bicycles through my and E’s subscription. Tuesday this week I used an OV Fiets with a colleague in Haarlem, where my client’s offices are located a 20-25 minute walk from the station, which can be covered by bike in 5-6 minutes. That’s a typical example.
In 2011 over 1 million bicycle pick-ups in a year were logged for the first time. 3 million in 2017, 4.2 million in 2018. The first 5 months of this year saw 2.2 million bicycle pick-ups already, a 30% increase compared to the 1.7 million pick-ups in the first 5 months of 2018.
When you get to public buildings or event venues it is very common to see a large number of the bright yellow and blue bicycles parked out front. All are numbered, and that number is also on your key, so it’s easy to find your own bike back.
In a decade of use I never had any issue with the public transport bikes. The only complaint is that sometimes, when I arrive shortly after the morning rush hour, large city stations may have run out of bikes. This happened to me a very few times. It is also the only common feedback on the system, as quoted at the top. Because bicycles are picked up and returned at railway stations which all have bike parking facilities, they don’t clutter up sidewalks and don’t require infrastructure on the city streets themselves.