Motivate Puts Bike Share in the Fast Lane

New name in Bike Share, Motivate, has two words for us moving forward: “density and ubiquitous.”

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Motivate Bike Share

Photo courtesy of Motivate

Bike sharing in North America has been a roller coaster ride for the past few years. In 2009, the first Bixi launch in Montreal, Quebec, had 3000 bikes. In 2013, Citi Bike in New York, NY, the largest in North America with 6000 bikes, was delayed for months because of software problems. Persistent software glitches dogged their system after opening. A month later in Chicago, Il, Divvy opened with 750 bikes. A couple of months after that, San Francisco, CA, Bay Area Bike Share had to make do with 700 bikes instead of a planned 1,000 because of problems with the bicycle manufacturer, Public Bike System Co. (PBSC or Bixi). Then, in January of 2014, PBSC filed for bankruptcy.

The good news comes from the entry of a new player on the North American bike share scene. Motivate, a company backed by investment from fitness company Equinox and real estate firm Related Companies, took over Alta Bike Share and now operates ten bike share systems across Canada, the US, and one in Melbourne, Australia.

In March 2015, Motivate changed the software that powers the Citi Bike system in New York and upgraded the stations and docking points, explained Motivate Communications Director, Dani Simons. Citi Bike will also double in size from 6,000 to 12,000 bikes. The expansion will begin this year and be completed by the end of 2017.

Although PBSC has emerged from bankruptcy, Motivate minimized risks of supply chain backlogs by hiring bicycle designer Ben Serotta to create the Motivate Bicycle. Motivate will maintain control of the manufacturing process to insure that parts are available as needed. The new model, redesigned to increase durability and comfort and decrease maintenance costs, looks similar to the original Bixi bike and is compatible with current docking stations.

The bike share system most impacted by the transition to Motivate is Bay Area Bike Share in the San Francisco Bay Area. After an initial roll out that included too few locations in some cities and stations only in downtown San Francisco, CA, the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) developed a plan to double the size of the system to 1,400 bikes and bring stations to populous East Bay. The MTC secured $19 million in mostly federal funds to pay for the 700-bike pilot and the planned expansion. Now, Motivate will increase the number of bikes ten- fold, from 700 to 7,000 by the beginning of 2017 – with funding from private sponsorship.

The expansion and new business model are game-changers for the Bay Area. “Bringing 7,000 bikes to the Bay Area is going to make the Bay Area’s system the second biggest in the country after New York,” said Renee Rivera, Executive Director of Bike East Bay. “They’ve identified the Bay Area as the next major metropolitan area [for bike share].”

Chris Cassidy, spokesperson for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, cited a University of Chicago study that stated for a bike share system to really reach its highest potential, stations have to be placed one to two blocks from each other. With the expansion, “that’s going to be a goal that’s reached in large portions of our region,” Cassidy said. Rivera agreed, saying, “I now have much more confidence that we’re going to have a successful system.”

MTC public information officer John Goodwin said the huge increase in the number of bikes not only increases the convenience but also greater visibility, which reinforces the marketing efforts. Better yet, the new business model has freed up millions in public dollars to spend on other projects. Goodwin noted that $7.7 million has been earmarked to fund active transportation projects and $4.5 million will be used to expand Bay Area Bike Share to more Bay Area cities.

Motivate CEO Jay Walder sees bike share as the logical next piece of the transit puzzle in times when our busy lifestyle means we plan ahead less often. “Bike share has an immediacy. You don’t go by schedules,” Walder said. “Increasingly our lives are that way and that’s what we expect.”

When asked about lessons learned from the initial roll out of bike share, Walder pointed to major expansions in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. “You do need to have the density of stations and the density of infrastructure within urban areas,” he said, noting that bike share users shouldn’t have to think about where the next docking station is or plan their route. Key words for bike share going forward, said Walder, are “density and ubiquitous.”

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