System fault sees man billed 2.000 francs for renting a PubliBike for 2 years

System fault sees man billed 2.000 francs for renting a PubliBike for 2 years

Receiving a fine is never a fun experience - especially if, to the best of your knowledge, you are not at fault. This was the case for one student at a Swiss university, after he received a 2.000-franc bill. The reason? He had technically been renting a PubliBike in Zurich for two years.

PubliBike rental scheme in Zurich

According to 20 Minuten, while PubliBike may be a fun and relatively inexpensive way to get around Swiss cities like Zurich, Geneva and others, users still encounter some faults with the bike rental system - especially the locks which tell you whether you have completed a journey or not. This was the case in the summer of 2020, when a man studying at ETH Zurich used one of the rental bikes to travel to a swimming pool.

After a day of fun in the sun, he locked the bike for the last time, which was confirmed by the bike's in-built display. However, trouble started when the app on his mobile phone informed him that the “ride” was still ongoing. No problem though, as even PubliBike says it can take up to 24 hours for a journey to be officially logged. "It's normal not to be able to check when you've parked your bike," the student told consumer magazine Espresso.

Lock error sees the bike disappear, leading to 2.000-franc fine

Unfortunately, PubliBike messaged him sometime later to say that the bike, which he was still renting according to their systems, had “disappeared.” After he informed the company that this was a mistake, they told the student that, as the bikes do not have GPS trackers, the bike couldn’t be identified. Luckily for him, they said that so long as they didn’t contact him within the year, he wouldn’t be affected or fined.

However, nearly two years later, and after the man had entirely forgotten about the bike, he received an email. In it, PubliBike confirmed that the bike was indeed lost, and as he was still technically renting the bike when it went missing, they were owed 2.000 francs.

20 Minuten claimed that, as the company has experienced financial hardship over the years, asking for repayment years after the fact has become a common practice. “It seems to me that they are still collecting money from the last few years. It bothers me that insurance companies should revisit their losses made over the last few years, with cases that, in my opinion, are just too long ago," the student told the newspaper.

As faults occur rarely, the rider is at fault, says PubliBike

This was immediately rejected by PubliBike, with a spokesperson telling SRF that of the 8.500 bikes that the company owns, only seven have ever been listed as missing. They noted that the 14.000 francs in income made from these "missing fines" have not improved their company profits by much and that as issues with the locks occur “rarely”, the fault must lie with the customer.

However, the company also said that “there may be cases where communication is delayed. In these cases, however, we are accommodating. We then see that there was a communication error on our side, and then you no longer pay for the journey.” When asked why the man was sent the bill two years after the fact, the managing director told SRF said there had been a communication breakdown and that they were now revising their emailing system.

Thumb image credit: smereka /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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