American Bike-Share Is Growing Quickly — In a Handful of Cities

Bike-share ridership is growing at an impressive clip. But just a few cities account for an overwhelming majority of trips. Chart: NACTO
Bike-share ridership is growing at an impressive clip. But just a few cities account for an overwhelming majority of trips. Chart: NACTO

Last year, there were 28 million bike-shares trips in American cities — a remarkable 25 percent increase in one year alone, according to a new report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Since 2012, the number of bike-share trips has grown ten-fold, double the rate of growth in bike-share bikes, meaning the systems are being used more intensively. This is all with a safety record that is practically unblemished. So far there has been just one recorded death of a bike share user.

Bike-share growth should continue in 2017, with San Francisco and New York both planning major expansions.

An increasing number of U.S. bike-share systems are offering discounts for low-income riders, NACTO reports. The big success in terms of making bike-share more accessible is Indego in Philadelphia, where monthly passes can be purchased for $5. NACTO reports that 44 percent of Indego users come from households with annual income below $35,000.

Most of the growth in bike-share usage is limited to a few major cities, however. Citi Bike in New York, Capital Bikeshare in the DC region, Citi Bike in Miami, Divvy in Chicago, and Hubway in Boston account for 85 percent of all trips — an indication of how much catching up other cities have to do.

What distinguishes the successful cities are their dense station networks, according to NACTO, which enable high-volume usage by siting bike-share stations within convenient walking distance anywhere in the service area. Many smaller systems — there are 55 cities with more than 100 bikes across the U.S. — simply aren’t designed to be viable transportation options for large numbers of people.

  • A quick glance at the chart suggests that from 2014 on the lion’s share of all growth has occurred in New York City.

  • c2check

    Not surprising given the population and density of the city (and correspondingly large number and density of bikes)

  • james

    NYC has done major investments on their bike infrastructure as of late, so if anything this proofs if you build it they will ride!

  • joechoj

    I’d love to hear more about what’s more responsible for the uptick: more available equipment, or a rise in rides per given bike.

  • PeterDrier

    In it’s first year, Citibike in NY had over double the rides per bike than any other major system in the world, at about 6 on average and 10 on peak weather days. Realistically the only way for NY to expand rides is expansion, as re-balancing efforts actually cost more at that scale (>$1 per ride provided) than buying additional bikes (1500) and stations (3000-4000 per dock)

  • Which presents a compelling argument to spend the money on the infrastructure instead of bike share.

  • Brent Hugh

    Contrary to the headline, since 2012 it looks like the impressive growth is in two places in the graph–the blue & the gray. Blue = NYC and gray = all ‘other’ cities.

    If ‘other’ continues growing at current rate it will soon dwarf the others. Whether that will happen is of course debatable.

    Totally agree that density of stations is the key to a successful and well used system.

  • Frank Kotter

    Except for the fact that NYC has done both. It is this combination and this combination only which guarantees success. It is not a question of either but the necessity of both.

  • The Dutch experience shows otherwise.

  • Frank Kotter

    I was specifically referring to the success of a bike share system. Yes, infrastructure is, of course, necessary but the NYC experience tells us that it is not the silver bullet. You can see this by comparing the share growth with that of Chicago which doesn’t have nearly the station density but shares similar bike and transit infrastructure.

    But yes, totally agree with you about the need for infrastructure to make a much larger portion of the population comfortable with navigating the city by bike.

  • Frank Kotter

    I just did a density comparison between Citi and Divvy. You can see my work below in another response but NYC is 3 times denser than ORD. This is the difference which allows its high use rates.

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