Transport consultant Dave Holladay (he does a fine transportation piece for Cycling Plus every month) knows his subject. Heres his email concerning city centre bike hire and free bike schemes...
A scheme like Call-A Bike has been running in the UK for some 5 years now, with 3 locations, and no bikes totally AWOL (although a couple were being used contra to the rules by being stored in student flats, rather than in the appropriate parking bays)
The scheme Portsmouth's Bikeabout is managed by Morley Stewart-Jones at the University. Initially it used three types of bike a Pashley, a mid
range Falcon, and a cheapo roadster, in an attempt to both assess the
durability of the machines, and spread the replacement demands. The project still runs, although the parallel free minibus inter campus service does take some potential customers away. A system based on Bikeabout was running in Rotterdam.
Luud Schimmelpennick's White Bikes in Amsterdam did end up in the canal but the CIOS Kopenhavn bikes now number over 2000, and still remain availble for just the insertion of a DKr 20 coin in the supermarket trolley style release clip. Luud's latest venture the Depo Bike does have electronic management, and several were in use at Velo Mondiale in Amsterdam, although I gather the Depo collection centres were not in use.
Adshel of course will be most disappointed that you've not mentioned their
scheme which was set up in Rennes, and demonstrated to a party from various UK local authorities. It is of course not so much driven by a desire to have an innovative electronic hire bike (Cardiff was originally due to go live over 12 months ago), but the lucrative returns from advertising panels which fit onto the bike parking units.
The Rennes bikes are basically similar to those from Das Beste Sykkel (DBS) which saw their first use in Sandnes and are now available with a smart card access system - first demonstrated at Velo City 1999 in Graz. Examples of the DBS bike are on display at the Conran Design Centre in London.
There are others too ON Bike in France and a group who were based in Chicago.
Rotterdam also has a centre hiring a European version of the ZAP battery
powered scooter, for touring Europort.