The last White Bike was chained to its stand after project organisers lost track of the other vehicles.
photo: Zuzana Habšudová
The Biely Bicykel (White Bike) initiative, aimed at relieving traffic congestion, was to provide the Old Town district with public bicycles which could be used by anyone, provided they were later returned to one of eight designated bike racks. Eight white bikes were put out September 21. One week later all the bikes were missing or had been destroyed, said White Bike organiser Miroslav Koziel.
"I give up," he said, standing next to the last remaining white bike, which was chained to a rack on Františkánske námestie in the downtown core. "I haven't seen them [the bicycles] around, and I've heard few reports from others who have. We found one bike in Palisády [a residential area near the Bratislava castle] with broken wheels and the seat missing."
Although discouraged, Koziel said that he may organise similar projects in the future. He added, however, that security measures would be added.
"Maybe next spring I will start a programme in which the bikes are still be free, but users will have to register," he said. "We have to protect the bikes somehow or the same thing will happen."
The Dutch embassy gave the Old Town its first white bike on July 18. Henk Soeters, Dutch Ambassador to Slovakia, said that he hoped Slovakia could emulate his native country, which had instituted a free-bike system in the 1960's to combat oil shortages, pollution and increased traffic.
Bratislava Old Town spokesman Milan Vajda said in July that the fate of the first white bike was a "public test of our morality". The bike was never seen after released into the public.
With the project now finished, he said: "This is a lesson about the minds of the people in this city. This is an example of their attitudes. It seems that we are not ready for this kind of project."
The Old Town installed 13 bike racks in the city centre at a price of Sk200,000 ($4,250) last year. "We thought it would help the white bike project," Vajda said. "But it seems it did not."
Both Vajda and Koziel said that they would not give up hope of creating an alternative form of public transport in the capital.
"This is not the time for disappointment," Vajda said. "We have learned a lesson. You have to try. Besides, this was not a real attempt at change. It was a small campaign to raise awareness, but nine bikes can't solve everything."
Added Koziel: "I'm disappointed, but I wasn't so naive to think this wouldn't happen. I figured I should try anyway. And in the end, we can call the Biely Bicykel project a small success because people now know about it."