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Since the beginning of September, the functioning of Gira, Lisbon’s bike-sharing system, has been criticized. The end of the summer vacations and the return to work and school coincided with a sudden drop in the number of bicycles available in the city’s bike-sharing network. 

Shortage of bicycles at Gira network stations, October 20.

The lack of bicycles has not slowed the pace of new station openings, a fact that may be making access even more difficult.

The difficulties are not due to the lack of use of bicycles. It is the opposite. Lisbon’s shared bicycles continue to beat records of use. EMEL (Lisbon Municipal Mobility and Parking Company), which manages the operation of the system, reported in October that the record of annual trips had been broken, with about three months to go until the end of the year: two million trips were made. 

With a daily average of seven thousand trips, Gira system is going through a troubled period. EMEL, the municipal company, assumes:

“Gira network is registering an increase in usage unparalleled in the past 5 years” with ” twice as many daily trips compared to 2019.”


In September of this year, 250,000 trips were made – 38% more compared to September 2021, when 180,000 trips were made.

The system is experiencing “growing pains”, states EMEL.

More stations and fewer bikes? The needle in the haystack

There are fewer bikes on the network than in the summer. On September 30, the system had 803 bikes in operation compared to the 1075 bikes in operation recorded on August 24 – a 25% drop.

In recent weeks, users have reported daily difficulties in finding bikes – this is because, despite the decrease, stations continue to open, making the task of finding an available bike more difficult.

Despite multiple reports of system malfunctions and insufficient bikes, demand for Gira bikes is breaking records. Photo: Inês Leote

On September 30, eight new Gira stations opened, with 189 more bicycle docks. In the penultimate week of October, another station opened, in Santa Apolónia. The nine stations total 220 docks, an increase that is not accompanied by an increase in the number of bicycles available.

Although the geographical expansion of the network theoretically enables access to public shared bicycles in more parts of the city, the reality is that without the increase in the number of bicycles, it is now more difficult to find a Gira to ride.

EMEL ensures that although in recent weeks the system provides several bikes less than 850, there is a fleet of about 1600 cyclists in the network. But admits that in total, there are “700 bicycles in the mechanical workshop for maintenance“.

The company explains that there are difficulties in the supply chain of components and raw materials, and also speaks of a workforce crisis.

In the workshops of Gira system, in Cabo Ruivo, there are about 700 bicycles for maintenance. EMEL justifies the lack of bicycles in the network with difficulties in the supply chain of parts and raw materials and with the lack of labor. Photo: Orlando Almeida

In response to Mensagem, EMEL says it is “working to overcome these constraints” and explains that it has an ongoing “recruitment process for technicians and mechanics, along with two public tender procedures for the acquisition of electric bicycles and pieces and components to electrify conventional bicycles.”

Between October 11 and 19, it was published on the BASE porta (a website with information on public contracts in Portugal)l, the conclusion of 10 service contracts to EMEL for the “phased supply of parts/components for bicycles that integrate the system of shared public bicycles (SBPP), of the city of Lisbon”.

The value of these contracts, with an execution period of two years, is around 657 thousand euros.

“Ensure more bikes before investing in more stations”

Mário Alves, a civil engineer and specialist in transportation and soft mobility, says this crisis in the system, which is caused by the fact that there are “few bicycles available for the number of stations and docks”, creates a certain distrust. “The user often finds stations without bicycles. It is serious because it dramatically reduces trust in the system.” In other words, “it is essential to always have a balance between the number of docks and the number of bicycles.”

The industry standard stated in the bicycle sharing network planning guide from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a US organization promoting public transportation and bicycle mobility says that the total number of docks in any given bicycle sharing system “should exceed the number of bicycles at an approximate ratio of two to one.”

The numbers for the past few weeks translate into a ratio of 3.3 docks per bicycle, substantially below the recommended “2-2.5 docks per bicycle in service.”

Currently, the number of bicycles provided on the network is 40% less than what is recommended for bike-share systems. For a ratio of one bicycle per two docks, Gira network should be providing about 1,360 bicycles, which translates into a shortage of approximately 500 bicycles.

The North American guide reveals Paris’ bike sharing system, Vélib, has a ratio of 2.4 docks for each bike, New York’s, CitiBike, 2.5, and Mexico City’s 2.2.

“If the number in Lisbon is 3.3, investment should be made to ensure more bicycles are available, before investing in more stations,” says the expert.

Between taking Gira to all parishes and a 75% drop in network investment

In September, the Lisbon City Council announced its intention to expand the public bike-sharing system to all of the city’s parishes by 2025, including Marvila, where there are currently no Gira stations and were no scooters or shared bikes from other operators are allowed.

The increased pace of opening of new stations in recent weeks and the announcement of the intention to expand the network may come up against the decrease in the investment planned for the network.

Gira, has been “extremely important in changing behavior and encouraging new users to try regular bicycling in the city for the first time. Photo: Inês Leote

EMEL’s Activity and Budget Plan (ABP), signed on November 17, 2020, for the period 2021-2024, provided for a four-year investment in the Gira network of around 12.4 million euros.

A little over a year later, in January of this year, and already under a new city council executive, a new document was published with a new EMEL Activity Plan and Budget for the 2022-2025 period, with an expected investment in the Gira network 75% lower: only 3.1 million euros.

The total investment planned for EMEL’s entire operation also went down, but by a considerably smaller proportion. If in the 2021-2024 ABP an investment of 97.1 million euros was foreseen, in the 2022-2025 ABP the foreseen investment dropped to 84.8 million euros, a drop of only 12.7%.

Mário Aves says that “reducing investment at this stage when Gira requires more support could be extremely expensive for the city. Gira, has been “extremely important to change behaviors and encourage new users to try regular bicycle use in the city for the first time, a possible disinvestment in the system could lead to further decrease the trust that the Lisboans have in Gira.” In the limit, a “point of no return” may be reached, putting “in danger all the investment made from the beginning.”

Since 2017, when the system was launched, the importance of Gira bikes in the city’s mobility landscape has been growing in importance.

By October 2020, GIRA bikes accounted for 27% of all bicycle traffic in the city of Lisbon, according to calculations made by Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) for Lisbon City Council.

Gira bicycle repair at EMEL’s workshops in Cabo Ruivo. Photo: Orlando Almeida

Following recent criticism of the system’s operation and fears of disinvestment, Portuguese Communist Party, Left Block Party and Livre Party councilors in the City Council have recently presented proposals to increase investment and improve the service provided by the city’s public bicycles.

In a city council meeting, last October 12th, proposals were approved that foresee the new EMEL management going to a city council meeting, “to present the current status of the system and operation, the execution rate of the amount foreseen in the 2022 Budget, the Expansion Plans of the Gira Network and an analysis of the problems reported by users and their solutions.

A recommendation to the municipal mobility company was also approved so that it “urgently” executes the funds budgeted for the Gira system, “by launching procedures for the purchase of bicycles, components and hiring labor”, as well as a recommendation for “significant reinforcement” of investment in the network.

You can read this article in Portuguese.

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