Just in time for the COP22 climate conference, the medieval Moroccan city of Marrakech recently debuted a robust bike-sharing scheme that makes 300 bicycles distributed across 10 rental kiosks available for 24/7 public use. Dubbed Medina Bike (“medina” being the Arabic word for city and, more specifically, the name of Marrakech’s famously labyrinthine ancient city center), the bike-share program isn’t just significant in that it’s the first such program in Morocco — it’s also the first bike-share on the entire African continent.
A bustling former imperial outpost famed for its dizzying souks, stunning mosques and glamour-tinged Yves St Laurent associations, Marrakech, a city where bikes once ruled the roads, is also notable for its modern-day traffic congestion and the health-compromising air pollution that comes along with it. While Medina Bike may not help usher Marrakech back to its bicycle-embracing glory days, the scheme marks a commendable step forward for the sustainability-embracing city in that it champions and promotes non-motorized means of transportation.
Conceived by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and launched in cooperation with the Moroccan government, the Municipality of Marrakech, the Global Environment Facility and, last not but not least, Smoove, a French company responsible for bringing bike-share systems to well over a dozen cities including Chicago, Vancouver, Moscow and Helsinki, Medina Bike has situated its solar-powered docking hubs in and near some of Marrakech’s most visible — and touristy — landmarks and locales including Jardins de la Menara, the Royal Theatre, the Koutoubia mosque and the luxury hotel-heavy Hivernage district.
Yet as the Guardian explains, Smoove is making a concerted effort to make bike sharing a viable option for everyone, not just well-heeled European tourists in town for a little rug shopping and R&R.
“We don’t want only the wealthy with credit cards to be able to access it,” Laurent Mercat, Smoove’s founder and CEO, explains, noting that Medina Bike is “providing a modern way of using bicycles again.”
“Like in France, the bike was one of the main means of transport in Marrakech, but has gradually lost ground,” Mercat adds in a press statement released by Smoove. “You can tell that a person is from Marrakech if they have a bicycle at the front of their house. Medina Bike will hopefully revive cycling. This tender marks our commitment to finding solutions to promote bike-sharing systems for more pleasant, greener cities.”
To that end, the company is looking beyond credit cards and smartphone apps and considering accepting cold hard cash as a potential payment method. And even if the price of a daily rental — 50 Moroccan dirhams or roughly $5 USD — proves to be too steep for ordinary Marrakechians, Smoove hopes that the very presence of Medina Bike inspires residents to dust off their old bicycles and leave their cars or scooters at home.
The company, which is handing over day-to-day operating responsibilities to local Moroccan company Estates Vision, is also optimistic that city officials move to build out and improve the city’s next-to-non-existent cycling infrastructure. “I think it will work, Smoove business development manager Damien Vander Heyden tells the Guardian. “But only if other public organisations help us create the conditions for this. It’s not easy to cycle in Marrakech.”
While the launch of Medina Bike in conjunction with COP22 is a nice bit of deliberate timing (it’s hoped/anticipated that those in town for the conference will take full advantage of the bikes and reduce the carbon footprint of the event itself), this bike-share scheme plans to stick around for the long-ish haul.
For its first five years, Medina Bike will run in pilot mode while Smoove considers potential expansion into other Moroccan cities such as Casablanca. Beyond that, Mercat notes that leaders in countries beyond Morocco such as Kenya, the Ivory Coast and South Africa have expressed interest in working with his company. Per the Guardian, Mercat plans on meeting with these leaders during COP22.