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Photo by Tim Snow
Bike Share Has Arrived
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Biggest, Baddest Bike Share in the World
The Hangzhou, China, bike share program began as a pilot project on May 1, 2008 with 61 kiosks and 2,800 bikes. Today, the project has become a mainstay of Hangzhou transportation infrastructure and a welcome low-cost means of transportation for its residents. Individuals can rent one of the now 51,500 bikes from 2,050 kiosks for free for the first hour. After that, the charge is RMB1 for the second hour and RMB2 for the third hour. All subsequent hours are only RMB3/ hour. Plus, if you paid for a transit ticket, your first 90 minutes on a bike share bike are free.
Hangzhou bike share users have the added bonus of being only 200-300 meters away from a bike share kiosk in the main districts and 500-800 meters away from a kiosk in the suburbs.
For more Momentum Magazine coverage of bike share systems from around the world visit momentummag.com/topics/bike_share
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Photo by Terry Mills
Velib BicyclesVelib bicycles are part of the urban fabric in Paris.
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Photo by Tim Snow
Elza KhakimovaElza Khakimova, vacationing in Montreal from Kazan Russia replaces her Bixi.
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Photo by Kathleen Wilker
Jane LathamJane Latham prepares for a spin on one of the Velib bicycles in Paris, France.
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Photo by Tim Snow
St. Laurent Metro StationBixi users pick up their bikes outside of the St. Laurent metro station, one of the busier stations in Montreal.
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McGill StudentA McGill student uses his annual pass to sign out a Bixi bike on Milton street in Montreal.
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Colombe VermilusPotential Bixi rider Colombe Vermilus tries to take a Bixi bike in Montreal's Old Port but is unable to as she had no credit card.
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Photo by Tim Snow
Downtown MontrealAn unidentified rider races down De Maisonneuve street in downtown Montreal at the beginning of the evening rush hour.
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Photo by Gwendal Castellan
A Fleet of BicyclesA fleet of bicycles await users of the Vélocité bike share in Mulhouse, a smaller provincial City in North Eastern France.
By Carolyn Szczepanski
The sight was simply staggering – even for a longtime bicycle commuter like Jeff Miller.
It was September 20, 2010, and Miller was among the hundreds of eager Washington, DC, residents who flocked to participate in the grand unveiling of a state-of-the-art, $6-million public bicycle sharing system. In all his travels during a round-the-world bicycle research project, and all his years as a bicycle advocate, Miller had never seen anything like the debut of Capital Bikeshare.
“There were just hundreds upon hundreds of uniform bikes in perfect rows,” he said.
The bicycles from the BIXI bike share system in Montreal, QC – run by the private non-profit Public Bike System Company – looked nothing like the hybrid Miller, the president of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, rides to the office. They’re built to withstand the elements and appeal to all riders. Each of the 1,100 BIXI bikes lined up before the buzzing crowd had come fully equipped with fenders, lights, front rack, chain guard, three-speed internal hub gears and a bulky step-through frame. Once the CaBi bikes were in place, residents and tourists would pay an annual, monthly, daily or one-time fee to check one of them out, ride it to another destination and return it to a kiosk near their destination (see sidebar: Bike Share 101).
“European cities view bike sharing as a simple solution to community enjoyment and sustainability, and now, North American cities are catching on,” said Kit Keller, executive director of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. “From San Antonio to Boston, San Francisco to New York City, US cities are embracing this new way of drawing and keeping young, creative people in their economy.”
And putting bicycles at the fingertips of the masses is having a tremendous impact on bicycling culture and mode share. As Pete Stidman, director of the Boston Cyclists Union, suggested: “If cycling is some kind of crazy drug that makes us happier, healthier and better-looking, then bike share is the gateway drug.”
Fare-free to Free Market
Bike-sharing has evolved dramatically since its humble beginnings nearly 50 years ago.
In 1965, the Witte Fietsen (White Bikes) program debuted in Amsterdam. The idea was simple – citizens found a public bike, rode it to their destination and left it for the next user. But bikes were stolen, vandalized, even tossed into the canals. The program collapsed within days. Other cities and advocates tried similar decentralized schemes, including Green Bikes in Cambridge, UK, and the Yellow Bike Project in Portland, OR. Both suffered the same fate as the White Bikes.
In 1995, the city of Copenhagen, Denmark, launched their “Bycyklen,” or City Bikes, a fleet of much sturdier rides that could be picked up and returned to specific locations around the city with a coin deposit. Soon after, the Bikeabout program at Portsmouth University in England took it one step further: For a small fee, students were issued magnetic cards to check out bicycles from fully automated kiosks. The program fizzled because of its small size, but the system itself was a winner.
Even with successful technology available, bike shares spread slowly for the next decade. Modest public systems popped up across the globe, but it wasn’t until 2005 that Lyon took it to the next level. The French city installed 1,500 bikes and the impact was immediate and dramatic. In less than a year, the system had 15,000 members and each bike was averaging 6.5 rides per day. That was enough to get the attention of officials in Paris, which quickly set the bar.
In 2007, Vélib’ took Paris streets by storm, launching with 7,000 bikes at 750 kiosks and growing to more than 20,000 bikes at 1,450 in just a single year. How could a city government front the more than $140 million initial price tag for such a system? It didn’t. And it doesn’t shoulder the significant operations costs, either. Paris followed the model of Lyon: The entire system is paid for and operated by a private marketing firm that receives free advertising space and shares with the city half of any revenues from membership and usage fees.
Buying into Sharing –The Canadian Example
Washington, DC, put bike sharing on the map in North America, but it was Montreal that shifted the landscape.
Alison Cohen, executive director of Alta Bicycle Share, a company that manages and operates bike share systems for a variety of clients (including Capital Bikeshare), was inspired – and informed – by Vélib’. “I went over to Paris and, although I loved the system – it was truly amazing – 50 percent of bikes I rode had something wrong with them,” she said. In her opinion, instead of contracting to advertising firms most concerned about marketing, “we need systems that are run by companies that really care about and are focused on the bicycles.”
From her mouth to Montreal’s ears: In 2008, the city’s parking authority made a $15-million investment to, well, reinvent the wheel. They established the Public Bike System Company (PBS), which developed a custom bicycle – created by award-winning designer Michel Dallaire. “We worked very hard to develop a bike designed specially for bike sharing systems,” said PBS’s communications director, Michel Philibert. “This bike is very functional, very secure – and very cool ... Today, we have more than 14,000 of these bikes around the world.” The city later severed its ties with PBS and the formerly government-run organization went private.
In April 2009, a nonprofit BIXI program in Montreal, launched by PBS, put 2,400 of those award-winning bikes and 300 sleek, solar-powered kiosks on the streets. Members signed up so quickly – 6,300 annual subscribers, 47,000 users and 225,000 BIXI trips in less than two months – the system expanded to 5,000 bikes almost immediately. Philibert wasn’t surprised. After all, bike-sharing is not just practical and ecological. “Bike sharing is very cheap; cheaper than a bus ticket,” he said. “And in Montreal, you are always within five minutes walking of a bike share station, so it’s very convenient.”
America Takes a Piece of the Pie
On the other side of the border, entrepreneurs and government officials were coming up with an American model. Trek bicycles, Humana healthcare and Crispin Porter + Bogusky teamed up to create B-Cycle, a company based in Wisconsin that created bikes and stations that boast the same cool factor and efficiency as BIXI. “Our approach has been to develop a product that’s very, very flexible,” said Lee Jones, B-Cycle’s sales manager. “Our stations are like building blocks in an Erector set.” Instead of weeks of labor, a new solar-powered station can pop up in a matter of hours and be configured to fit into even small architectural nooks and crannies. The bikes are high-tech, too. Each has what Jones calls a bike computer that tracks riders’ mileage, calories burned and even pounds of carbon dioxide saved. “And we provide Kryptonite cable locks, too, so you can duck into a shop to grab a coffee or a book between stations,” he added.
In April 2010, Denver got rolling with 43 stations and 400 bikes. A few months later, Minneapolis followed suit with Nice Ride, another nonprofit model that drew on federal funding and private dollars to put a 700-bike BIXI system on the street. Despite shutting down for the winter, both systems won widespread support in their first year.
Progress wasn’t confined to big systems in big cities, either. An all-volunteer nonprofit in Des Moines, Iowa, stitched together $120,000 in city, county and private funding to install a modest 18-bike B-Cycle system with kiosks in the downtown district in September 2010. Carl Voss, a leader of the Des Moines Bicycle Collective and founder of the bike share, said the bikes have become a new means of connecting to downtown amenities, such as the new $40 million sculpture park and Iowa Cubs ball park.
“The bikes are very visible,” he said. “I constantly get emails from friends who say: ‘I just saw three bikes on Court Avenue!’ or ‘I just saw two couples on bikes at Grays Lake!’ People are noticing them. That’s a great sign.”
Worth the Investment?
As recently as last year, bike shares were viewed by North American cities as a daunting risk for several reasons.
They’re not cheap – the average cost per bike ranges from $3,000–5,000. In fact, in May 2011, the tremendous start-up costs forced BIXI to ask for – and receive – a $108-million loan from the city of Montreal to keep the popular system afloat while they built up their ridership and the infrastructure necessary to recoup their initial expenses and take the company to the point where it could break even.
Mandatory helmet laws can confound bike share companies because of the complexities inherent to providing helmet rentals: hygiene, proper sizing and making sure the safety rating of a borrowed helmet hasn’t been compromised. In Mexico City, the government repealed its helmet law before ECOBICI bike share opened in 2010. Plans are now in place to triple the number of ECOBICI bikes by the end of 2011. In Melbourne, Australia, even helmet vending machines haven’t resolved that city’s low ridership for its BIXI system.
Stocking issues – transit patterns can cause an excess of bikes in some areas and shortage in others, requiring auto intervention. “We’re very aware of the contradiction of advocating carbon-free transportation – and then using trucks to move the bikes around,” said Parry Burnap of Denver’s B-Cycle. “This year, we’re not intervening as quickly, hoping they’ll balance themselves out.”
Liability is often a determining factor. “A lot of cities were wary,” Cohen said. “They were saying, ‘Well, this seems really neat, but there are so many difficult things to consider. What if all the bikes get stolen or vandalized? What if a novice rider on the street gets killed? We’re taking on ton of liability and we’re going to get sued!’”
As of early May 2011, Denver hadn’t had a single injury or death. In Washington, DC, there had been a mere seven accidents over the course of more than 330,000 rides – a higher rate of safety than for the general cycling population. “The story that came out of 2010, from the experience in all three (US) cities, was that, ‘Hey, this will work!’” said Bill Dossett, executive director of Nice Ride in Minneapolis.
The bottom line looks promising as well. The nonprofit BIXI operations in Minneapolis and Denver, are still creating the mold for a sustainable funding mix, but have found widespread support in the public and private spheres. Denver’s B-Cycle raised more than $800,000 in sponsorships in its first year of operation. “None of the systems are self-sustaining yet from a financial standpoint,” said Cohen, “but I think they will be within three years of launch.”
Of course, the payoff for both citizens and their cities goes way beyond the bank.
Bike shares are clearly replacing trips that would otherwise be taken using cars or cabs. What’s more: Bikes are engaging new or previously car-dependant audiences. In Minneapolis, for instance, 40 percent of the 24-hour memberships were riders with zip codes from out of state, proving that Nice Ride is appealing to tourists. Even in a city that has a strong bike culture, Nice Ride is expanding the two-wheeling population, too. Approximately 40 percent of annual members were women – more than 10 percent higher than the general cycling population.
“The beauty of bike share is, it’s tourists, it’s commuters and it has completely busted the doors wide open for a whole new group of professional and everyday Americans to pick up biking instead of crowded transit,” Miller said. “It’s something that’s so accessible and approachable. … For many people who haven’t ridden a bike in years or don’t have a bike in good operating condition, here’s something that’s right at their fingertips, in perfect working order and ready to roll.”
And more cities are lining up to capitalize. In March 2011, Miami, FL, kicked off DecoBike and in April, Boston, MA, announced its intention to launch a 600-bike system this summer. In May, Toronto, ON, debuted the third largest BIXI system in North American with 1,000 bikes and Vancouver, BC, took initial steps towards launching a system in 2012. All eyes will be on another major city in 2012, too. New York City is planning a massive 10,000-bike system that will roll out next spring. “Biking has become a serious transportation option in New York and bike share is the clear next step,” Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC’s transportation commissioner, said in a press release.
The Future of Bike Share
In the meantime, many current systems are expanding, including Denver, Minneapolis and DC, and the market continues to evolve. For instance, Social Bikes, based in New York City, is using technology that replaces the costly kiosk-based system with GPS, mobile communications and a secure lock that can attach to almost any bicycle and lock to any regular bike rack. Private companies in Germany, such as Call a Bike, have been using this system for years, but it’s a new phenomenon in North America. “I loved the concept of bike share, but thought that we could use technology to reduce start-up cost and make the system more flexible and scalable,” said Ryan Rzepecki. “SoBi will be approximately one-fourth the start-up cost and our bikes can take advantage of existing bike infrastructure.” The first three pilots, including one at the University of Indiana, will launch this fall.
The two major manufacturers in North America, B-Cycle and BIXI, are looking to integrate their systems so that, in the near future, a membership for B-Cycle in Des Moines will work in Denver, or a key for BIXI in Montreal will unlock a bike in Boston, too. “That,” Cohen said, “will be incredibly powerful.”
Communities that Ride Together, Thrive Together
Within cities, bike shares have already had a powerful impact. Just ask Piep van Heuven, executive director of BikeDenver. “The presence of the red bikes and more people dressed in their everyday wear biking in downtown has made the area friendlier to bicyclists in general,” she said. “You just can’t help but smile when you see someone B-cycling along – and that’s a far cry from some of the motorist-bicyclist tensions we were experiencing two to three years ago.”
Bike share systems are proving that the more travelers on two wheels, the safer and more vibrant bicycling becomes. Which is why Jones is proud that bike share companies are bringing new riders into the fold. “What’s amazing to me is seeing people who haven’t been on a bike in 15 or 20 years walking up to a station and reengaging with bicycling,” Jones said. “What they realize on a bike share bike is they don’t have to be going 25 or 30 miles per hour. You can take your time, really feel the city and have some fun.”
Share the Bike Love
Nice Ride, 2011
+ 700 bikes
+ 73 stations
+ 29,000 24-hour subscriptions and 1,300 one-year subscriptions in 2010
+ 500 bikes
+ 50 stations
+ >43% of trips on B-cycle replaced car trips
Capital Bikeshare, 2010
+ 1,100 bikes
+ 110+ stations
+ 82% ridership increase during rush hour from 2007
+ 5,000 bikes
+ 400 stations
+ 3-million pounds of greenhouse gases saved
+ 20,000 bikes
+ 1,202 stations
+ 46% of users in 2009 were less likely to use their personal vehicles after joining
Voices of Bike Share
Meleah Geertsma, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, is a member of Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC. Here’s why she rides, in her own words.
Last summer, when I moved to Washington, DC, from Chicago, IL, I was excited to find out that the city had recently started a bike sharing program. I own three bikes of my own, so my interest wasn’t a matter of having a bike or not, but more the convenience and flexibility of having an accessible, affordable option around the city for short-distance trips.
There’s a Bikeshare station near my home in Mount Pleasant and a number of stations close to many of the places that I frequent. I’ve found numerous uses for Capitol Bikeshare in the past year: biking to a settlement meeting in a suit; riding to work or an evening out in a skirt and heels; meeting up with friends when I knew I would be too tired to bike home; riding in one direction when I want to walk part way or if the weather is expected to turn ugly; or biking home when a cab is too expensive or traditional public transit is too slow. I have also used Bikeshare a fair amount in the winter to reduce wear and tear on my own bikes from salt, sand and slush (and to circumvent a mess in the house where I store them). I’ve even used Bikeshare – with an overnight backpack on – to travel to Union Station and catch the Amtrak on my way to visit family. And out-of-town friends use it on their visits with us so that we can ride around together.
The sheer range and number of people that I see on Bikeshare bikes makes me smile on a daily basis. Overall, I find Bikeshare a wonderful addition to the urban transit landscape. It has extended the range of trips that I take by bike and, from what I’ve seen, gets a wider range of people out on two wheels.
Voices of Bike Share
Curtis Caldwell is a chief in Denver, CO - and a member of Denver B-Cycle. Here's why he rides, in his own words.
I began using the Denver Bike Sharing program last year, shortly after its inaugural launch on Earth Day. I used to own a bike that got me wherever I needed to go in the city, but it was stolen around the same time B-Cycle started. I bought into the program, as that was more cost-effective than purchasing a new bike.
I'm lucky to live in the Capitol Hill area, as there are four B-Cycle stations within two blocks of my current apartment. Plus, there's a station behind Vesta Dipping Grill, my work, at 18th and Blake streets. I find myself using the system to bring home groceries, travel downtown to see movies, ride to the Cherry Creek Mall for people-watching, bike to various parks around Denver and just get out and enjoy the sun and beautiful weather. There is barely a day that goes by that I don't use a B-Cycle at least once.
I love the program because it's convenient. I never have to worry about a flat tire. I don't have to worry about it being stolen, since it locks into the kiosk. If I ride it somewhere where there isn't a kiosk, the built-in lock works wonderfully. The bike has built-in front and rear lights, as well as a sweet bell. It's a three-speed, so no hill is ever an issue. Plus, a built-in GPS system tracks the bike and will tally your miles, carbon offset and rank among all riders in miles traveled.
As of May 2011, I was in fourth place for the most miles traveled. Last year I finished in first place at 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers) traveled.