Update March 1: There’s a new kid in town to compete with GIRA! Ok, it’s not really new, ‘cuz it’s some sort of Uber thang. So far, what’s impressive is the hideous pink color of the new Jump bikes and the false advertising that is the Gratis tag on the handlebars, which upon closer inspection actually say it’s Gratis for the first 10-15 minutes (much like Gira). Stay tuned for our review of Jump!
There was once a time when Lisbon had [more] competition in the bike-sharing department, but because you people have no manners, oBike was forced out and now we only have GIRA [and Jump]. Which isn’t bad at all, if you know what to expect. We have a few tips on using the app-controlled bike-sharing service that could save you some headaches — and hopefully the program itself.
GIRA, which now has hundreds of bikes, many of which are electric-assist (!), was launched by Empresa Municipal de Mobilidade e Estacionamento de Lisboa, or EMEL for short. If you drive in Lisbon, you know the name: they collect parking fees all over the capital and then get the police to tow offending cars for them. Anyway, smart guys, and this isn’t their only initiative outside of parking meters and garages.
GIRA ran in pilot mode for a few months in Parque das Nações and then unleashed its bike-sharing service on the general public earlier this year. Currently, it seems to favor the corridor from Praça Comercio toward Praça Espanha and then Campo Pequeno, with an outpost in EXPO, but they’re gradually adding more stations and, if they can keep up with the maintenance, GIRA is on the verge of becoming a viable alternative to buses, trolleys, Ubers, and tuk-tuks, too. For those who can ride bikes, of course.
The program works off your phone: download the app, give them your financial details (they take PayPal, thank the lord), and you’re ready to bike. This Atlas correspondent was able to do all of that in about 10 minutes using the free wi-fi provided by the GIRA station itself. Once you’re on, turn on your location tracking, fire up the app, pick the station you’re standing in front of, and it will show you the available bikes, including the charge, in percentage, on the batteries of the ones that are electric. Pick a bike, unlock it in the app, and pull it out of the bay.
– It’s cheap, compared to, say, Madrid’s bike-sharing program. GIRA is currently 25€ annually, 15€ Monthly, and just 2€ daily. Until October 2018, the first 45 minutes are free for all subscriptions, then it’s 1€ for an extra 45 minutes and €2 for every 45 minutes after that. After October, they plan to charge for the first 45 minutes: 0,10€ for normal bikes, 0,20€ for electric-assist, except for the daily subscription, which offers the first 45 minutes free (but see CONS).
– The electric-assist bikes will make you forget you’re riding uphill. You may never want to ride a regular bike again.
– You can leave your fixie for when you go to the festivals on the waterfront with all the other hipsters.
– Environment, natch
– Exercise, you little marshmallow!
– Free wi-fi, even if you have no intention of using their bikes
– They’re putting in more stations all the time.
– Definitely not enough stations outside the current corridor
– Electric-assist means you have to pedal to turn on the assist engine, so this isn’t a scooter. However, it’s still a very minor expenditure of energy to get the thing moving, even on steep hills.
– The vast majority of the bikes currently available are not electric-assist.
– After October, the 2€ daily subscription option becomes a palm-sweat-inducing testicle-squeezing 10€ per day. That’s, like, two Uber rides from your crappy Airbnb to a place you actually want to be.
– Lisbon has very few bike lanes that go anywhere useful. We try to keep track of them here.
– The GIRA app crashes frequently. In our experience, about a quarter of the time.
– The bikes occasionally don’t come out of their bays even when the magic green circle is flashing, although that’s been getting better. Sometimes they also don’t get into the bay right away, no matter how much you twist it up and down and slam it in there. Just. Won’t. Go. In. And if you walk away…
– There’s a chance GIRA will charge you because your time runs over 45 minutes. Here’s the best part: since you can only pay for a subscription, you’ll be in EMEL’s debt. And they’ll want you to pay before you take out the next bike. This usually happens when you’re already running too late to walk or take the metro, so you’ll pay. And then…
– Customer service. The phone symbol in the app is there, though, so you can call them, but anecdotal evidence suggests they don’t want you to: an automated message says to wait for an operator or to email them, I didn’t got through on two tries, and another user stood in front of me for 8 minutes on hold, with no results. A friend who did get through… was told to email them. But…
– They take a looooooong time to respond. An email sent to EMEL on July 6 about refunding an erroneous 1€ charge was finally answered July 31.
Our recommendation? Get used to restarting the app regularly. When you have problems returning the bike, try different bays, different stations, if you have to, and don’t be in a rush if you can. If you see an EMEL employee fixing the station, ask for help — and be nice to them. They’re the only ones preventing the system from sinking to its knees.
GIRA is a good service, a great service, even, though it probably could have done with more testing before they took it out of the suburbs of Parque das Nações. They should also probably hire some more people to respond to phone calls and emails, but right now this is all we have, so support these poor souls for a greener city.
A BETTER GIRA?
GIRA expects you to rate every single bike you take out, which is incredibly annoying, intrusive, and, frankly, a waste of everyone’s time. It appears the reason for the rating is benevolent: you can send GIRA a note telling them if something is wrong with the bike. If you have that sort of time, by all means, go for it. But some cities have decided on a much simpler system: if something is wrong with your bike, when you park it, people turn the seat in the opposite direction. That way the program’s staff will know it needs fixing and other users will know it may not be a perfect ride.