November 16 2016

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 ren- tal kiosks available for 24/7 public use. Dubbed Medina Bike (“medina” being the Arabic word for city and, more spe- ci cally, the name of Marrakech’s fa- mously labyrinthine ancient city center), the bike-share program isn’t just signi - cant in that it’s the rst such program in Morocco — it’s also the rst bike-share on the entire African continent.

A bustling former imperial outpost fa- med 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 traf c congestion and the health-compro- mising air pollution that comes along with it. While Medina Bike may not help usher Marrakech back to its bicy- cle-embracing glory days, the scheme marks a commendable step forward for the sustainability-embracing city in that it champions and promotes non-moto- rized means of transportation. Conceived by the United Nations Indus- trial Development Organization (UNIDO) and launched in cooperation with the

Moroccan government, the Municipa- lity of Marrakech, the Global Environ- ment 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, Me- dina Bike has situated its solar-powered docking hubs in and near some of Mar- rakech’s most visible — and touristy — landmarks and locales including Jar- dins 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 bi- cycles 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 nding solu- tions 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 me- thod. And even if the price of a daily ren- tal — 50 Moroccan dirhams or roughly $5 USD — proves to be too steep for ordinary Marrakechians, Smoove hopes that the very presence of Me- dina 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 Vi- sion, is also optimistic that city of cials move to build out and improve the city’s next-to-non-existent cycling infrastruc- ture. “I think it will work, Smoove bu- siness 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 rst ve years, Medina Bike will run in pilot mode while Smoove consi- ders 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.