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.”