Number Crunching in Transport

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Few Insights on Bike Sharing Schemes

Sudhir Gota

My previous blog resulted in a request for more insights on bike sharing system. Please find below some insights on such systems based on literature review and my understanding of the subject.

1.             A minimum standard of bicycle infrastructure is necessary to ensure safety and accessibility to bike-sharing stations. Experts argue that bikeways, bike lanes, special intersection modifications, and priority traffic signals and other facilities are the key for its success.  Without any infrastructure, bike sharing scheme does not have any chance.

2.             The number of daily users per bike increase for larger and denser systems. Isolated small systems have smaller impact. In other words, larger the system, wider the coverage, more would be the usage of a bike in a day.

3.             Bike-sharing trips should be short and the system should encourage short trips.

4.             More number of bikes should be located in CBD/tourist areas as the usage would be more

5.             Stations should be separated by not more than 500m. As a ageneral rule of thumb, It should be ideally less than 300m. In case, it’s more than 500m, it adversely affects the usage.

6.             Pricing should be optimal - virtually all schemes provide first 30 min or 60 min free to encourage short trips

7.             Bicycle availability and in good condition is important. To ensure this one needs to provide good budget for maintenance. many schemes use atleast 1000 USD/Year/Bike for operational maintenance

8.             In case the terrain is hilly, bike distribution to stations becomes difficult (people would not ride uphill). So distributing the bikes with trucks to various stations is a common solution. But better idea is to vary the pricing... provide more free time at low demand area.

9.             Availability of people already biking was considered initially as a recipe for success. Many cities which initially adopted this had high bike share (10-30%)... but slowly after its success in US where the bike population is not even 1% is making people consider this as a myth.

10.           No smart bike program has made a profit to date from its operation. So schemes designed with profit in mind are less likely to be successful.

11.           Interesting thing about ownership is that now even public transit authorities are getting involved in these schemes for solving first and last connectivity problem.  In fact, many consider that Bikes and stations should be co-located with transit for best integration.

12.           Temperature and rains have big impact. For example, data from velib indicates that the ratio of trips during bad weather and good weather is sometimes as high as 1: 4.6. The success of the scheme depends on design to counter the adverse impact of weather. Some cities are proposing 3 season design which means that the system would not work during rainy season or in hot summer. By using appropriate design like shades, overhead cover, routes through interlinked parks etc. the weather impacts can be reduced.

13.            Theft is a big problem. Many assume that this system does not work in cities having high crime rates based on Velib experience. This is not true. The design makes a big difference. Barcelona has higher crime rate then Paris but only few number of bikes vandalized or stolen. The locking mechanism and the technology used make a big difference.  Also, one cannot keep security deposit less than the cost of the bike (many cities have done that). Also, by allotting appropriate budget ( say 10%)  thefts can be reduced.

14.           Average trip length of bike users is around 4 km and >60% of users are less than 40 years old.

15.           Placement of bike station requires managing the conflicting desires of program visibility and aesthetics.

16.           Bike sharing stations should be so located so as to encourage multimodal transport. Locating bikes only at destinations or origins does not work.   

17.           Bike-share programs need have more docking stations than bicycles (typically 40-50% more) to ensure that users can always find a place to leave their bicycle. Sufficient bicycles and docks are needed to guarantee accessibility of bikes.

18.           Some argue that keeping the system open for 24 hours can increase the patronage as seen in Velib. Nearly 25% of trips are between 9 pm to 3 am. So keeping the stations open during the sunrise to sunset may reduce the demand.

19.           Experts believe that mandating helmet use on bike-sharing may not be a great idea and may adversely influence ridership. Some cities are changing their laws on helmets when implementing bike sharing schemes while some are handing out free helmets with annual subscription, launching safety campaigns etc.

20.           Share bikes should be distinctive and should be designed for urban areas. Like BRTS, branding is important.

21.           In case the commercial model follows franchise model relying on bicycle advertisements, than the priority areas for initial placement depends on demand.

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