Two Key Factors That Can Make or Break a Bike-Share Network

What if you could dramatically increase the usefulness of a bike-share system without adding any bicycles or docks? Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business have come up with a model that they say could help even the most successful bike-share systems in the world get more bang for the buck.

Paris' Velib bike share could attract 29 percent more riders if a few key changes were made, researchers estimate. Photo: Wikipedia
Researchers estimate that even Paris’s much-used Velib bike-share could attract 29 percent more riders by optimizing the location and size of stations. Photo: Wikipedia

The Booth School team focused on two factors: station accessibility (or how long it takes people to get to a station) and bike availability (or having at least one bike to check out at a station). After collecting minute-by-minute ridership data from 349 stations in Paris’s highly successful Velib system over a four-month period, they modeled the effect of these factors on ridership.

Researchers found that decreasing the distance to access stations by 10 percent boosts bike-share trips by about 7 percent, while a 10 percent improvement in bike availability can increase system usage about 12 percent.

Interestingly, given a fixed number of docks and bikes, improving the accessibility of a network can diminish its availability, since the system would have a larger number of stations spaced closer together, but each station would be smaller. The inverse is also true — designing for greater availability can reduce accessibility.

However, networks can be optimized taking both accessibility and availability into account. In the researchers’ model, simply rearranging existing Velib bike-share docks — adjusting the size and location of stations — could attract 29.4 percent more trips.

  • SuperQ

    I wanted to try using the bike share system in NYC when I was visiting one time. But the stations were so far apart, or far from where my destination was, it was easier to walk or subway and walk.

    Having more stations in NYC would have made the system much more attractive.

    In comparison, the station locations in London were much better, but still could be improved. For example, there was a bike dock along the water near a hotel I was staying at, but why not have some the bike share bikes directly in front of the hotel entrance.

  • Alan

    You do have to take peak usage and other load factors into account. For example, http://images.greatergreaterwashington.org/images/201101/241637.jpg and http://greatergreaterwashington.org/image.cgi?src=201204/101151.jpg&ref=14368 show distinct clusters where there is the most demand.

  • Steven

    Also, having a good app for the system makes a big difference. It would’ve been a lot harder to use DC system if it wasn’t for the SpotCycle app. Sure was fun doing the 30min leapfrog thing, though. Raleigh, NC is looking into bikeshare but I would rather have more bike lanes, facilities in general etc., tbh.

  • Good thing ours are down in the financial district & soma where people can experience biking in Detroit when they come to visit.

  • ranzchic

    It’s because many NYC businesses and residences were against placing the stations right in front of their buildings for the irrational fear that it would drive business away for taking parking spots. I wish I was kidding.

  • Asher Of LA

    This may be an obsolete concern – the next generation of bikeshares are semi-dockless, including Santa Monica’s. While there will be docks, users can lock them up anywhere within a given area, and use an app to find bikes whether they are docked or not. This may pose some other issues, like an increased need for bike shepherding, but on the whole it seems simpler. In the case of Santa Monica, the contractor was able to offer many more bikes at the same price as competitors who weren’t using a dockless system, suggesting a dockless system is cheaper.

  • thielges

    One factor that can sink a successful bikeshare program is introduction of an adult helmet law. The substantially complicates the task of outfitting a rider for a 30 minute jaunt.

  • Kevin Dole

    Due to it’s steady depopulation Detroit traffic is far tamer than SOMA & FiDi – even during rush hour. The SF stations should be downtown but they should be safer. Better bike infrastructure would certainly help.

  • Eric W

    I’m with Asher below – bike parking stations are now antique. The new system going into Santa Monica has a GPS on each bike. That means any number of methods can be used to locate a available bike. A cell phone app will find you a bike. A kiosk the size of a phone booth could find you a bike. The bike and the means to locate one can be anywhere.

    Those “bike parking” stations are expensive in terms of almost everything: they take up public sidewalk space, they require major maintenance, and they cost quite a bit – seems to add up to “Don’t need ’em.” There is some benefit to having a public presence for bike share, but it doesn’t justify the cost of a station.

    U of C is way behind the curve, this isn’t the study we need now. The old bike parking stations will disappear as the bike share movement gets new networks with better bikes. Maybe that study will help the first systems, but bike share is about bikes, not stations. A better study would have been one that shows the economic benefit of bike share and public transportation expansion in urban areas.

  • bikecar101.com

    We are not very familiar with bikeshare programs and not necessarily against the idea. We are in support of having the choice of riding your own bicycle throughout the city — unless that is not an option. There are some concerns that hopefully the readers might help shed light on:

    1) How often are the bicycles at the bike hubs checked to fix broken bicycles?

    2) In the event that a person rents a bicycle and gets a ‘mile out’ of range and gets a flat tire or a part on the bicycle breaks, how does that bicycle get repaired? Does the user just return the bicycle to the nearest hub? How does he/she report that the bicycle needs repair?

    We are interested to hear the answers to these questions from people who are experienced users of ‘bikeshare’ programs. Thank you in advance for entertaining our questions.

  • GaryP

    Seattle has a box-o-helmets, soon to be replaced by a vending machine. So far it has not been an issue, however the system was installed last fall at the end of the “normal” people riding season. So it remains to be seen how well it will work as the weather warms.

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