One of the things people often ask about FreeBike is if it is bikeshare. By bikeshare, they mean the more than 1,000 networks of bikes (and more recently scooters) that various cities and a smaller number of corporate campuses have set up, where people can rent a bike for a few minutes for a quick trip.
FreeBike is related to bikeshare, in that people use both to move around on small vehicles, and don't need to start out by buying the vehicle, but that's about where the similarities end. Here are some of the big differences:
It's a LTR: With FreeBike, riders get to have a long-term relationship with their wheels, ranging from weeks to months to years, depending on what their group decides. This is great when you have a busy life and just want to get going the same way you did yesterday.
It's at your place: With FreeBike, riders keep their wheels wherever they want, the same way you do when you own a car or a bike. This is particularly nice when your trip needs to start or end at home or at school or at the office, or anywhere you go regularly - meaning most of the time. It's also really important, because it means that your group doesn't need special public space set aside - you're just like every other bike rider, except you happened to get a great deal on your wheels.
It goes where you want to go: There are no designated usage zones. No parking zones or docks. It's just a rider and the regular rules of the road. Since the point is, you know, to go where you want to go.
It's ready when you are: No checking an app to see where someone else left some wheels. No walking to a dock to see if there's a bike available. Since the point is, you know, to go when you want to go.
It's set up for you: The seat is always the right height. The brakes and lights work the same as last time. Those streamers and the child seat you added are just how you like them.
It's the wheels you need: Bikes, cargo bikes, long-tail family haulers, scooters, wheelchairs - your FreeBike group is free to get a variety of vehicles, so each rider can roll however works best for them. The result is lighter, better performing vehicles, tuned to what each person needs. Pretty slick. Pretty essential.
Riders have (a little) more responsibility: Part of what makes FreeBike work so well is that riders do some of the little things - things like charging up their batteries and securing the vehicle when it's not being used. Wow, this makes everything so much simpler and lower-cost.
All of these differences add up to a solution that people use differently than they use bikeshare. FreeBike tends to get used for everyday rides. FreeBike riders, as bicyclists, still tend to use bikeshare more than other people - for the short trips that come up when they don't have their personal wheels with them. And, for the groups that partner with FreeBike, the whole thing costs less than 10% as much per trip as a bikeshare system, and has about 1% the complexity. So, is FreeBike bikeshare? The two play well together, but in a word, no.