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Posts from the Bike Sharing Category


What Cities Are Learning About Making Bike-Share More Equitable

Cities are gaining more insight about how to make bike share work for the poor. Photo: NACTO

Cities are gaining more insight into how bike-share can be more useful and accessible to low-income people. Photo: NACTO

So far, the customer base of American bike-share systems has skewed toward affluent white men. But cities have been working to make the systems more useful and accessible to a broader spectrum of people, and in a new report, the National Association of City Transportation Officials has compiled some of the lessons learned.

Here are a few key takeaways:

The appeal of monthly membership plans

Photo: NACTO

Image: NACTO

The price of a full 12-month membership can be a barrier for some people. Providing the option of monthly passes or installment plans encourages people across all income levels to try bike-share, NACTO reports.

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America’s Biggest Bike-Share Operator Now Makes Its Own Bikes


Ben Serotta assembles one of the first models of Motivate’s new bike. Photo: Motivate

Motivate, the company that runs bike-share systems in several large American cities, is now manufacturing its own bikes. That might explain why the timetable for Citi Bike expansion has been getting a lot firmer.

When the current Motivate management team took over last fall, they inherited two big problems. Most of their systems ran on flawed software that crippled reliability and frustrated riders, and the manufacturer of their bikes had gone bankrupt.

Now both issues have been addressed: Replacement software from 8D Technologies installed this spring has a proven track record in other cities, and the new bikes — designed by Ben Serotta — clear up how the company’s fleets will be expanded and replenished.

The new bikes will be used in the expansion of Citi Bike starting later this year, in Jersey City’s upcoming bike-share system, and in any future system operated by Motivate. Bike-share docks will be compatible with both the new bikes and the old models made by Bixi.

Motivate_Green_BikeThe new design retains the thick boomerang-shaped frame — the notable differences are in the guts and components of the bike. Gearing has been adjusted so riders don’t spin so much in the low gear. The seats, notorious for cracking and retaining moisture in the current models, got an overhaul. “The construction and material are both supposed to improve wear,” said Serotta, “plus the hole in the middle allows water to drain and not puddle in the middle… and provides a more comfortable, better ventilated ride.” (Nigel Tufnel will be delighted to see that the seat post size now goes to 11.)

In designing the new bikes, Serotta worked in tandem with Motivate’s head mechanics. In a short email interview, he explained that process and how it shaped the end product. Below is a lightly edited version:

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NACTO: If You Want Bike-Share to Succeed, Put Stations Close Together

There's a strong correlation between bike share station density and how many people use the system. Image: NACTO

There’s a strong correlation between how closely spaced bike-share stations are and how frequently they are used. Image: NACTO

A new study from the National Association of City Transportation Officials [PDF] adds credence to the theory that station density is a key factor in whether a bike-share system will flourish or flop.

More stations per mile, more ridership per bike. Chart: NACTO

More stations per mile, more ridership per bike. Chart: NACTO

In its analysis of bike-share systems across the U.S., NACTO found that stations that are close to other stations see more use. In addition, bike-share systems with higher overall density — New York and Paris are leaders — tend to have higher ridership than more dispersed systems like Minneapolis’s Nice Ride.

Riders from systems around the U.S. report the primary reason they use bike-share is because it is easier or more convenient than available alternatives. But users don’t want to have to travel a long distance searching for a place to pick up or return a bike. So the accessibility of bike stations — and, crucially, accessibility by walking — is a primary determinant of their usefulness.

“Research on transit users finds that most people will walk no more than a 1/2 mile to get to commuter rail, with a large drop-off beyond a 1/4 mile,” the report says. “The distance someone will walk to use a bike appears to be much smaller — about 1,000 feet or 5 minutes walking.”

Furthermore, placing stations close together across a contiguous area offers “exponentially” more destinations than those that are isolated.

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Bike-Share Comes to Philly With the Launch of Indego

On Thursday, Philadelphia’s long wait for a bike-share system came to an end with the launch of the 60-station, 600-bike Indego system, which is set to expand in the near future. At the kickoff, volunteers and officials — including Mayor Michael Nutter — rode about half of those bikes to their docking stations.

I got to talk to most of the movers and shakers who helped come to fruition. Even more fun, I got to ride with Mayor Nutter’s platoon of Indego-ers to a station near City Hall.

The pricing system of Indego is what sets it apart. Instead of a yearly fee with trips capped at 30 or 45 minutes before extra fees kick in, which is the most popular subscription option offered by most other systems, Indego is going with a fee of $15 per month for unlimited one-hour per trips. This allows people to avoid the larger upfront cost of an annual fee, and subscribers who, say, only want to ride during warmer weather can also save some money. Another option is IndegoFlex, which provides a year of access to the system for a base fee of $10, with a per-trip fee of $4 for rides up to one hour long.

Indego is the largest bike-share system in the country that uses BCycle bikes and stations. It’s going to be a great addition to Philly, which has the largest bike commute mode share of any American city with more than 1 million people.


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.


The Common Mistake That Undermines American Bike-Share Systems

One of the leading architects of New York City’s bike-share system, NYC DOT alum Jon Orcutt, is on a mission to show how the design of bike-share networks affects their success.

Orcutt created this animation warning against a fairly common practice in smaller American cities: splitting the bike-share network up into separate clusters of stations. On his Tumblr, he elaborates on why a divided system won’t work well:

Plans to launch bike share systems in separate geographical areas or nodes are almost certainly a recipe for low usage (unless each node is very large and essentially its own system).

Small bike share systems are generally low performers. Breaking a finite amount of bike share resources into smaller pieces needlessly sacrifices the utility and productivity of stations/bicycles.

The video breaks it all down.

For more advice from Orcutt, check out our November interview where he discusses why high station density is such a critical factor in designing bike-share systems that people will want to use.


Arlington Offers Cash Bike-Share Memberships to the Unbanked

Washington, DC, is 50 percent black, but only 3 percent of Capital Bikeshare members are. As in many cities, the DC bike-share system’s users are disproportionately white, educated, and employed.

Arlington, Virginia, has come up with a way to allow people without credit cards to be bike-share members. But is their solution transferable to other places? Photo: ## Arlington##

Arlington, Virginia, has come up with a way to allow people without credit cards to be bike-share members. But is their solution transferable to other places? Photo: Bike Arlington

As advocates and city officials have tried to make this economical and healthy transportation option more widely accessible, they’ve persistently come across a major obstacle: how to extend bike-share to people without bank accounts or credit cards.

Across the Potomac, Arlington is going to try something new. According to the county’s bike-share management consultant, MetroBike, “Arlington will vouch for its residents, so that they don’t need to provide a credit or debit card.”

This will be a departure from standard practice, where credit or debit cards act as insurance against stolen bikes. In the typical bike-share payment model, if a bike disappears on your watch, your credit card gets charged $1,000. The $7 monthly membership fee Arlington plans to collect in cash at its Arlington County Commuter Services “Commuter Stores” will provide no such guarantee. The county appears to be willing to trust its residents enough to take on this risk.

Arlington is an entirely different beast from DC, though. The county has a median income of $103,000. The low-income population targeted by the cash-payment measure is significantly smaller there than in DC.

DC has developed its own solution to the problem of making bike-share accessible to the unbanked, but it involves signing those people up for bank accounts, not checking out bikes on the honor system.

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Jay Walder on What’s Next for America’s Biggest Bike-Share Company

Last fall, former MTA chief Jay Walder took over as CEO of Alta Bicycle Share, part of a restructuring that injected new resources and expertise into a company that had struggled to keep up with the demands of running bike-share systems in half a dozen major American cities.

Jay Walder. Photo: fortunelivemedia/Flickr

This morning, the company came out with a new name, Motivate, one of the first public announcements in what’s expected to be a year of rapid improvement and growth. (Another piece of news dropped last week: Jersey City has picked the company to run its new bike-share system, which will be accessible to Citi Bike members.)

I got a few minutes this afternoon to chat with Walder about the new name, the status of the Citi Bike overhaul, and his vision for the company. Here’s our Q&A, edited for length and clarity.

What led to renaming the company and why did you go with “Motivate”?

It was a requirement to rename the company after taking over. We engaged in a discussion of our values, and what we want to achieve. We think it fits in with the way people think of [bike-share] in their life. When I think about it, I use words like “action” and “energy” and “movement.” I think it also reflects that as a company we have to be continually moving and changing and evolving in the cities and urban areas where we are.

After we ran a short post this morning about the name change, readers immediately wanted to know more about efforts to make Citi Bike more reliable. What can you tell us about how that’s going?

When we took over, we said we would be working over the winter to use this time to make Citi Bike more reliable. We said we would overhaul all 6,000 bikes in our fleet, and that is underway right now.

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New Name for Alta Bicycle Share: “Motivate”

With a new name, Motivate is telling cities more bike-share stations are on the way. Photo: Citi Bike

After new management took over in 2014, injecting capital and expertise that’s expected to turn around a sputtering operation, the company formerly known as Alta Bicycle Share has adopted a new name: Motivate. (A verb! Very active transportation-y.)

Motivate operates bike-share systems in New York, DC, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle, making it the dominant player in the American bike-share market. While the company isn’t releasing details about how it plans to upgrade the problematic software and equipment that have held back system growth in those cities and stalled the launch of systems elsewhere, today’s announcement promised a new wave of expansion.

“As cities change and grow more rapidly than ever, only bike share is flexible and personalized to keep pace,” CEO Jay Walder said in the statement. “Now, with the backing of new ownership, Motivate is positioned to deliver even better service to cities and bring bike share to scale.”

Walder told U.S. News that changes are underway now in preparation for peak bike-share season. “We’re trying to use the winter to be able to get things done,” he said.

Public presentations about adding Citi Bike stations started up last month in New York.


How to Make Shared-Vehicle Services Accessible to People of All Incomes

Capital Bikeshare struggles to accommodate low-income users, despite outreach efforts, station siting in low-income areas, subsidies, and efforts to include those without bank accounts. Photo: DDOT, via ##

Capital Bikeshare struggles to draw low-income users, despite outreach efforts, station siting in low-income areas, subsidies, and efforts to include people without bank accounts. Photo: DDOT, via ITDP

Washington’s Capital Bikeshare is one of the biggest and most well-established bike-share systems in the nation. Its annual fee of just $75 buys you unlimited free half-hour trips. The system now has 2,500 bicycles at 300 stations in the District and the nearby suburbs.

It’s an incredible money-saver, especially for the 50 percent of users who report driving less and the 60 percent who report taking fewer taxis since joining bike-share. But if it’s such a thrifty transportation choice, why are only 8 percent of CaBi members low-income, compared to 45 percent who live in households that earn more than $100,000?

CaBi’s trouble attracting low-income users is not exceptional. Other transportation services based on the idea that people can economize by accessing a fleet of vehicles instead of buying their own — think bike-share, car-share, and ride-share services — have failed, for the most part, to draw people who stand to gain the most by saving on transportation costs.

Transportation eats up a disproportionate amount of low-income people’s household income — 24 percent for people earning between $5,000 and $30,000 per year. And low-income people tend to face longer commute times than wealthier residents. Transit options between their homes, which are most often in cities, and their jobs, which have in recent years sprawled out to the distant suburbs, are often lacking.

Shared transportation options can provide solutions when transit alone is deficient. But by and large, poor people are not taking advantage of those solutions. The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy looked at the barriers to widespread adoption of these options by low-income people and some possible solutions in a new report, “Connecting Low-Income People to Opportunity with Shared Mobility.”

Here’s how some services have bucked the larger trend and provided transportation for people on a wider range of the income ladder.

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