Citing a need for immediate action, Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) has asked Wiener Linien to assume responsibility for the future of Vienna’s city bikes, following failed negotiations over maintenance costs between Deputy Mayor and Transit Minister Birgit Hebein (Greens) and long-time sponsor, outdoor advertising giant Gewista. Though the Greens have alleged that the idea to involve the Wiener Linien had been proposed by Hebein at least two weeks prior to the mayor’s announcement, the move has essentially ousted her from the project.
City Bikes in Free-Fall
Operating 60 of Vienna’s 121 city bikes stations, Gewista had been the program’s largest sponsor for nearly two decades. However, citing annual losses of €1.1 million, and a city empty of tourists from the pandemic, Gewista approached the city at the end of May for additional support or to hand over its share. The company argued that the city bikes were unprofitable due to the one-off registration fee of 1 euro and the allowance of an entirely free first hour of riding– citing that 95% of rentals last under an hour. Hebein was angered by the timing of Gewista’s move, as the demand for the city bikes has increased significantly over the last months. Furthermore, the 61 remaining rental stations were built in the second phase as an expansion of the city bike network and are located primarily in the outer districts.
Under the new plan, the Wiener Linien will assume long-term control of the city’s 121 existing stations in September, with the intent to later expand and technically improve the network. More specifically, they aim to integrate the bikes into Vienna’s mobile public transport app and to construct a rental station outside each subway station. The costs of the expansion will be carried by the city, which has also pledged €2 million a year to cover operating costs. The major expansions will begin in 2022 and gear the city bike network as a supplement to the public transport system, expanding the accessibility to suburban areas.