Are Bikeshare Programs Successful?

Bikeshare programs were first introduced in the U.S. seven years ago. Outside Magazine investigates whether they "are actually benefiting cities and their residents."

3 minute read

December 6, 2016, 8:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


Biketown, Portland, Bike Share

"What metrics should we use to determine whether the concept itself is a success?" asks Joe Lindsey.

A good place to start is to look at the three major factors that Zoe Kircos, director of grants and partnerships for advocacy group People for Bikes, says are the primary goals of bike sharing: reducing traffic congestion, boosting public health, and increasing mobility.

Lindsey cites three studies that provide some answers:

  • [A] 2014 report from the NYC Department of Transportation found that even though some traffic lanes were converted to protected bike lanes on various streets, travel times for car traffic remained steady or improved: on Eighth Avenue, they were 14 percent faster, for example.
  • 2015 study in Transport Reviews looked at systems in five cities, including Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, and found that users substituted rides via bike shares for car trips 8 percent of the time in D.C. and almost 20 percent of the time in Minneapolis.
  • separate study on D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare found that it contributed a modest but noticeable 2 to 3 percent reduction in traffic congestion.

The last two studies was undertaken about a year before the onset of the SafeTrack repair program, which reduced operating hours of the D.C. Metro. "The number of trips since the beginning of SafeTrack in June increased about 7 percent compared with June to November 2015," reports Planetizen's Casey Brazeal on November 28.

"One-day and single-trip fares are also up about 58 percent compared to pre-SafeTrack numbers," Luz Lazo [in the Washington Post] tells us.

Safety and Public Health

Lindsey also looks into the public safety and health aspect of the programs, citing two studies that show that while biking as a whole may be seeing increasing fatalities in the U.S., that's not the case for bikeshare:

An April post looks into why bikeshare cycling has a better track record than regular cycling, notwithstanding the lack of helmet availability.

Subsidies

Lindsey also looks at one of bikeshare's criticisms: public funding. For the three different operating models (which he delineates), the public subsidy varies from small to none, as opposed to the huge subsidies that many public transit receives per ride, making many of the criticisms moot.

Not only are bike shares achieving statistically measurable improvements in traffic congestion and public health, they’re doing so at negligible cost to taxpayers.

Deficiencies

Another criticism is that bike share doesn't serve a diverse population, particularly minorities, low-income communities, and even women, despite the availability of discounted membership in some programs. Ford GoBike has announced a $5 discounted annual membership to attract low-income users to its Bay Area program when it launches in the Spring, though it only applies for the first year.

And not all bike shares have been financially successful, resulting in their discontinuance.

These failures have allowed developers to realize that bike-share programs work best at “scale and density,” according to Kate Fillin-Yeh, who helped launch Citi Bike and now directs the bike-share program at the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).

"So, is the concept of bike share as a whole a success?" asks Lindsey.

Despite some imperfections, there are very few arguments from users, researchers, or advocates that a bike-share system is bad for a city. But to better quantify the role it plays in the United States, we simply need more frequent and rigorous data and analysis, like the London study.

Hat tip to Melanie Curry of Streetsblog California.

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