Picturesque vineyards and colorful orchards: the South Tyrolean city of Merano attracts numerous visitors with its special charm, especially in summer. For the tourists there are hiking tours as well as excursions to the sights of the city on the program. Particularly useful is the city's bike sharing service, which users can easily access at any time. But also locals benefit from the offer and can flexibly take care of their business.
This article explains why the City of Merano initiated the bike sharing, what the first steps looked like and what added value it brings to the city.
Why Bike Sharing?
The sharing bikes have been on the streets of Merano for about a year. It was developed within the framework of the MENTOR project, with the goal of testing Mobility as a Service in smaller areas of the Alpine region. A bike rental system is nothing new in Merano: seasonal bike rental has been available there since the 1980s. However, this is only available in summer and at fixed opening hours. To take advantage of the offer, potential riders must fill out a paper form and pay a deposit each time.
"With MENTOR we wanted to bring the rental service to a new level by digitalizing and expanding the availability of bicycles all year round and around the clock. We also wanted to make it interesting for commuters by setting up several stations and the one-way function (you don't have to return the bike where you rented it). In the long term, the idea of creating a last mile offer is a valuable building block within a multimodal mobility chain. In addition, we wanted to counteract the strong individual traffic in Merano and, for example, make travel by train even more attractive," reports Ruth Lochmann from the city of Merano.
At the present time, a total of 60 rental bikes are available at four stations in Merano. These include the Kornplatz, the Sandplatz, the train station Meran and the train station Untermais. "In the beginning, we wanted to develop the connection between the city center and the train stations well, because this line is the core of our last mile concept. We always had to choose locations where there were already bicycle parking places before and high visibility was important to us", explains Lochmann.
Making users aware of the offer
Of course it is important to make potential users aware of the sharing offer. First of all, this is ensured by the striking green foliation of the bikes and the stations.
As part of an advertising campaign, Mobility Points with free bike checks were set up. In addition, bike-sharing ambassadors informed interested people in front of the station about the possibilities of bike sharing. Outdoor advertising in the form of posters was placed on the city billboards.
The Merano Bike Sharing is stored in Google Maps and a landing page appears with an appropriate internet search. Advertising videos in the trains and on the social media channels round off the digital advertising measures.
The first steps
Since this is a public administration project, bureaucratic hurdles had to be overcome first: A concept had to be worked out and those responsible had to be convinced. In addition, a fascicle with a general description of the planned service was submitted to the city council for approval. The proposed locations were discussed in the city council and approved by the local police.
"In addition to planning and obtaining all permits, successful implementation also requires a lot of work. After thorough market research, we prepared tenders for software providers, but also for the materials for the installation of the stations. Contracts were drawn up and user regulations were drawn up". Since this is time-consuming, Lochmann recommends that you plan a few months in advance.
Use and feedback
The Merano Bike Sharing is a particularly user-friendly system. The bikes can be rented completely free of charge for a maximum of five hours. Users can lock and unlock the bikes as often as they wish during their booking period: ideal for errands in the Mediterranean city or stops at places of interest. It is particularly practical that the return does not necessarily have to take place where the bike was rented: It only has to be brought to one of the four stations in time.
The bicycle mechanic of Merano Bikes is also passionate about the maintenance and control of the bikes, in order to always guarantee a top condition.
In the months of July and August the offer was used by a lot of tourists. In the other months mainly locals make use of the sharing. The user feedback is always positive.
One year of bike sharing - a conclusion
The Merano Bike Sharing has now been in existence for about a year - it started at the end of October 2019, so Merano Bikes was already in the way of the Corona virus in the initial phase: "Unfortunately, it was not possible to portray a 'normal' year this year, as there was much less tourism, much fewer train passengers and less movement in the city than before the Corona crisis", explains Lochmann.
However, Merano reacted quickly to the changing conditions and ensured that the bikes are regularly disinfected. In this way, users are offered safe sharing.
"We are basically very satisfied with the functioning of the sharing, but would like to see a much higher level of use. That is why we continue to work on making the service even better known. Our conclusion is: The offer is already very attractive. However, many local Meranians still need to be introduced to the new, fully automated usage and prefer additional local support," concludes Lochmann.
Despite the setbacks caused by the Corona, Merano bike sharing offers a high potential: One-way-sharing offers both residents and tourists the possibility to get to their destination flexibly between the train station and the other locations. The option of locking the bike indefinitely makes the sharing interesting for many quick errands and appointments as well as sightseeing and offers a relaxed alternative to car and public transport. Last but not least, sceptical users can get to know the sharing principle and experience the advantages.