Friday, May 11, 2012

Bike share - Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv's bike share program is now just over one year old. It's called "Tel O Fun" (which is kind of hilarious, and, according to Wikipedia, "The service name is the blend of the words "Tel Aviv" and the English word for pleasure "fun" in Hebrew the word "Ofan (אופן) is Wheel.")

The program's website has a full english section with everything you need to know. It seem simple and convenient with lots of well located stations.

Here's a picture of one station.
Bike Share Tel Aviv
The website also includes a link to a map of bicycle lanes in the city. One dedicated lane extends almost along the entire coast, from the old north Tel Aviv port to the Old Jaffa port. This would be a nice place to ride for recreation and beach going. I'm not sure how commuting works in the city, but recreational riding seems very well considered!

Bike path along the coast
From what I observed, most cyclists were taking it easy and enjoying their fair and wonderful weather. Sidewalk cycling is allowed and some bike paths are multi-use with pedestrians. This leads to slow riding and lot of relaxed socialising on bicycles. Also, it was the weekend. :)

 Socializing on bicycles
While in Tel Aviv for a day, I was very eager to try cycling in the city so I looked into several options before arriving. First, I found some tour packages or organized rides, which look great, but expensive per person for small groups.

Instead, we decided to use the bike share program and use my brother as a tour guide. :) He's a good story teller, so no matter what, it would be entertaining. We met with him near the north port and proceeded to buy tickets from a Tel-O-Fun machine. The station was full of bicycles, with a truck and more bicycles out front. And so begins our sad story.

Unfortunately, the station machine indicated that all the bicycles attached were out of order and could not be rented... so we walked south to the next station.

At that station, the barcode scanner was out of order so we couldn't engage the system with our tickets... at this point my brother called the helpline. They suggested we walk to the next station. We did so - under a bit of time pressure.

At the third station, the barcode scanner was also out of order and could not read our tickets! A few other users stopped by and no one with a barcoded ticket was able to use the system.

My brother has an annual subscription, so he was able to use his pass (not barcoded) to get a bicycle. With his Tel O Fun bicycle, he cycled to the next (fourth) station, patience at an end, to see if it was operational. Apparently, the barcode scanner was operational, but it had the same problem as the first station, all the bicycles were marked as out of order and unavailable!

Over an hour had passed from when we had expected to get bicycles, take a nice ride and return them. We didn't have much time left, and frankly, were so annoyed by the system errors that we gave up on the idea. I wish I had prepared a "plan b," such as renting bicycles from one of the many bicycle stores in Tel Aviv, but alas, no plan, no bicycle.

After we giving up on Tel O Fun, we called the service line again and were assured that we'd be given a refund for the tickets we purchased.

At the time of this misadventure, it felt like a terrible disappointing ordeal, but as I write the story down, I realize that we could have just kept trying to find a working station...

I'm curious, were we too impatient? Would you check more than four stations?

More photos of cyclists and cycling in Tel Aviv here:


  1. I think you were quite right to get impatient with a faulty system. Such technology is supposed to make things simpler and more convenient than...well, a manual system. Of course it's not possible to have someone employed to stand at every bike station handing out bicycles. But on the other hand, there is a place for real people somewhere in all of this. An example of a totally manual bike hire scheme -

  2. Actually I think you were incredibly patient. This is a government provided transport system that people are relying on to get places and have paid (or are trying to pay) for the use of. Would taxpayers think it OK to try 4 trainstations because all of the trains were broken down or ticket machines defunct? I think not. You are a much more patient soul than I :-)

  3. You weren't being impatient. You are owed a refund and and apology (a real apology, not some bureaucratic-customer-relations B.S.).

    If people can't rely on the system, it will not be used.

    I hope that those who are responsible for the system are made aware of your experience and of your post.

  4. Interestingly, the State of Israel repealed their all-ages helmet law to ensure that the bike share systems would work - technological glitches aside. A bold, visionary move. Mexico City did the same thing. Nice to see that urban cycling for Citizen Cyclists is booming.

  5. Thank you for letting me know about "Tel O Fun.". I'm not sure I will ever get the opportunity to go to Tel Aviv again, but will definitely check this out if I go.

    I wrote a post once about Israel once, but could not seem to add the link here.

  6. Thanks for the reassurances... when I was writing the post I was sitting in cold, rainy holland remembering walking up and down the lovely beach in Tel Aviv and wondering why I was upset about it... but it was frustrating.
    The system worked very well for my brother with his non-barcode pass, so it's only the daytrippers who might have a problem. I hope they'll fix it up. Sue- Maybe if you just put in the full url? I'd like to read your post. :)

  7. The only difference is the womens' model comes standard with front and rear fenders.

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  8. You may had an inconvenient experience, but at least you still get to experience cycling!