Cycling is Tel-O-Fun in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv's compact layout, flat geography, mild climate and young population all combine to create a city that was destined to become a cycling hub. Cycling in Tel Aviv is fun, and nowadays it not just fun but also easy thanks to Tel-O-Fun, the city’s public bicycle program. The project was scheduled to be launched in 2008, but was delayed until the Israeli helmet law was amended in 2011. Once the mandatory helmet age was curbed to 18, Tel Aviv immediately launched the long-awaited Tel-O-Fun, and ignited a true cycling revolution. Bicycle rental stations popped up all around the city, and in a fortnight, the bicycle became a real alternative to the car in Tel Aviv.
Tel-O-Fun now includes more than 200 stations and 2000 bicycles. The prices are structured to encourage shorter rides, with the first half hour free of charge. A recent municipality survey showed that the use of bicycle to commute to work has increased from just 6.5% in 2010, to 16% in 2014. The system is popular with local commuters as well as tourists. However, its popularity led to a higher wear rate than originally expected, and users demanded an improvement in the level of service. FSM, the operating company, is constantly investigating new ways to improve availability, Flat tires account to 50% of the maintainence workload, so FSM is evaluating two prototypes of airless tires.
Domestic and international success
Tel-O-Fun is regarded internationally as a major success, applauded for its appeal for both locals and visitors and for its commercial success. It is the biggest bike-share system in the Middle East, and has ranked 8th best is the world in a USA Today survey. Tel Aviv’s neighbors have discovered the power of bicycle to attract a young, dynamic population. Tel-O-Fun is being rolled out in the satellite cities of Ramat Gan, Givataim and Bat Yam and bike paths are being rapidly laid in Holon and Hertzliya. Tel-O-Fun is an inspiration for other Israeli cities such as Jerusalem to explore the establishment of their own bike sharing system.
Tel Aviv’s future is riding on two wheels
The explosive rise in use of electric bicycle is seen as a game-changer in Israel. The Ministry of Transport is promoting a plan to establish a metropolitan network of cycle paths in the Greater Tel Aviv region, connecting Tel Aviv to cities within a 20 km radius such as Kefar Sava and Ramle. It is estimated that using the electric bicycle will cut commute times by half on some routes. In order not to lose its lead and its cycling appeal, Tel Aviv will have to invest in more separated bike lanes. The bicycle has already become as integral part of Tel Aviv culture as the city’s famous beach. And it is certainly here to stay.