• The Re-Cycling Community

    Most citybike-services follow a unique template: fixed bike-stands to pick up and return your bicycle, provided by municipial authorities, sponsored by corporations. A Czech bicycle-sharing project leaves the trodden path and adds a strong sense of community to the mix.

    Project Rekola unsurprisingly has strong ties into the Czech green community. Its founder, Filip Ježek, is chairman of an organisation connected to the Green Party. Newly hired CEO Pavlina Pacáková has worked for Greenpeace and for the Czech Green Party. Vitek Ježek, the third founder, co-owns a software company called Mangoweb that provides the mobile app to access Rekola-bicycles.

    Speaking about Rekola, Pacáková never calls it a citybike-ring, but a bike-sharing-community. “The idea is based on an earlier bike-sharing-system in Suchdol – a small district of Prague. Unfortunately, the founders back then suffered a total loss due to vandalism. Rekola keeps the community-aspect, but adds intelligent software and bike-locks.”

    The bicycles are refurbished citybikes painted in a flamboyant pink design. “High school-students help out renovating the bikes or look after the bikes that are in the city for very little money.” In terms of organisation, Rekola operates as an NGO. The workshops are open to everyone, and while visitors are asked to contribute their bicycles to the system they do not have to.

    Getting started

    Rekola has used crowdfunding via the Czech platform hithit.com and raised 150.000 Czech crowns (about 4.500 euros). This sum was doubled by the Vodafone Foundation, which is in the Czech Republic running a programme Technology for Society. The foundation also enabled the founders to visit similar projects abroad and it keeps supporting the project in various ways.

    But also with such a strong backing, none of the founders would disagree that Rekola is still a work in progress. Last year, they even experimented with a kind of franchise-system.

    Work in progress

    “From April 2015, we will start what is our third testing-phase,” announces Pacáková. 100 Rekola-bikes will then be available in Prague, 50 more in Brno, 10 in Olomouc and 20 in Pardubice and Hradec Králové. “It is the first bike-sharing-system working without fixed stations and relying on a community rather than one company running the system. We already have more than 1.000 registered users. Some of them are not even cyclists, but simply wanted to support the idea.”

    Social Impact Award

    Winning the Social Impact Award changed two things for the team. “First, being acknowledged like that was a huge boost in motivation for us. Immediately, our vision became bolder, we started thinking more internationally. Why not go to Barcelona or other cities where there is no working bike-sharing-system in place?” she recalls.

    “Second: The positive feedback we received convinced us further that it is the community-aspect that is most important about Rekola. We will never let go of the community principle.”

    What would you say to others like you?

    “Everyone kept telling the Ježek-brothers that a bike-sharing-system like this would never work,” recalls Pavlina Pacáková. “But they refused to listen. Even now, we often face resistance, for example when we try to convince politicians to let us build more and safer bike-stands. After many ‘no’s’, we often get a ‘yes’. So my advice to social entrepreneurs is this: Never give up!”