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Despite Woes, Bike Share Programs Continue to Spread

Bike share programs are spreading throughout the United States, now in 36 urban areas, up from six four years ago. However, half the programs have encountered technical or financial difficulties, according to a tally by The Wall Street Journal.
July 11, 2014, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Reporting from Chattanooga, where a small but successful two-year-old bike share program [we've posted articles on the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System here and here] operates, Andrew Tangel of The Wall Street Journal illustrates some of the growing pains in bike share programs here and throughout the country.

The initial funding of $2.1 million (for Bike Chattanooga) has been spent, revenue has fallen short, and the number of yearly memberships sold to frequent riders is about 90% smaller than projected.

One problem cited: "an ample, cheap supply of parking." Parking for cars, that is.

Even the nation's largest program, Citi Bike in New York City, has experienced financial difficulties.

"The business is dominated by a small number of companies, including PBSC Urban Solutions Inc., of Montreal. PBSC sells bikes and technology to many of the biggest programs in the U.S. but filed for bankruptcy in January," writes Tangel.

PBSC's international operations have been purchased by Bruno Rodi"We're looking forward to the logjam breaking," says Mia Birk, vice president of Alta Bicycle Share Inc., a Portland company that runs bike-share programs using PBSC's system. 

Susan Shaheen, a researcher of bike-share programs at the University of California, Berkeley, adds: "The business model is still under development. Some of it is trial and error."

Ryan Rzepecki, chief executive of Social Bicycles Inc., of New York, supplier to eight cities was more straight forward. "The industry is kind of a mess."

Warts and all, programs are spreading. "By the end of next year, there could be as many as 38,000 shared bicycles across the U.S., researchers at Earth Policy Institute estimate," adds Tangel.

Correspondent's note: Link to Wall Street Journal article should be fully accessible to non-subscribers through July 17.

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, July 10, 2014 in The Wall Street Journal
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