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Posts from the "Bike Sharing" Category

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Chuck Schumer Proposes Making Bike-Share Memberships Tax Deductible

If you drive to work, the IRS allows you to pay for parking with pre-tax money. Same goes if you take the train or the bus (though transit commuters can’t claim as much tax-free earnings as car commuters). People who ride their own bikes are also eligible to deduct some associated costs. But if you get to work using Citi Bike, Divvy, Nice Ride, or any of the other bike-share systems sprouting up in American cities, you get no such assistance from Uncle Sam.

Those to use bike share to commute to work may soon be eligible for the same tax benefits everyone else receives. Photo: Steven Vance

People who ride bike-share to work may soon be eligible for tax benefits like other commuters. Photo: Steven Vance

New York Senator Chuck Schumer wants to change that by treating bike-share memberships like other commuting costs. Schumer plans to add an amendment to a Senate package of tax benefit extensions that would specifically list bike-share memberships as an eligible expense for transportation fringe benefits.

“Bike share programs are an efficient, healthy, and clean form of mass transportation, and they should be treated the same way under the tax code as we treat car and mass transit commuters,” he said in a statement yesterday.

The amendment would allow commuters to deduct up to $20 per month in bike-share expenses from their taxable income, the same as regular bike commuters. That would make the entire cost of an annual bike-share membership tax-deductible. Chicago’s Divvy, for instance, is prices at $75 per year, NYC’s Citi Bike costs $95, and at the very high end of the spectrum, Deco Bike in Miami Beach costs $150. For commuters, a low-cost transportation option could become an even better bargain.

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Boston Doctors Now Prescribing Bike-Share Memberships

The newest tool for doctors in the fight against obesity? That’s right: Bike-share.

Doctors in Boston are now prescribing Hubway memberships. Photo: Hubway

Doctors in Boston are now prescribing Hubway memberships. Photo: Hubway

This week in Boston, doctors introduced a program called Prescribe-a-Bike, offering low-income residents struggling with obesity an annual Hubway bike sharing membership for the low price of $5. The program is being administered by Boston Medical Center in partnership with the city of Boston. Qualifying patients will have access to Hubway’s 1,100 bikes at 130 locations. Participants will also receive a free helmet.

“There is no other program like this in the country,” Mayor Marty Walsh told Boston Magazine. “Prescribe-a-Bike makes the link between health and transportation, and ensures that more residents can access the Hubway bike-share system.”

Local officials hope the program will result in about 1,000 additional memberships, according to the Boston Globe.

In the medical community this type of recommendation is known as an exercise prescription, and it is a growing practice. More doctors are prescribing exercise, the CDC says, as “lifestyle diseases” like obesity, heart disease and diabetes have become some of the leading killers in the United States. In addition, policy measures like the Affordable Care Act are providing incentives for the healthcare industry shift focus from treatment of disease to the promotion of wellness.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Knight Rider Rides Again

It was a dark and stormy day in San Francisco and Jeff Wood stayed dry in Woonerf studios, recording the Talking Headways podcast with co-host Tanya Snyder, who was bitter that days after the spring equinox, Washington, DC, was getting hit with another snowstorm.

But more importantly — what does the future hold after a tumultuous news cycle for New York’s Citi Bike? What can Chicago (and, oh, every other American city) do to create more affordable housing in the neighborhoods everyone wants to live in? And is the self-driving car seriously going to become a reality by the end of this decade? And is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Jeff and Tanya take on all that and more. Or really, pretty much just that.

Enjoy our sweet 16th episode of the Talking Headways podcast, subscribe on iTunes, follow the RSS feed, and talk at us in the comments.

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Why TIME Magazine Got the Bixi Story Wrong

Major media have a habit of blowing bike-share problems out of proportion. Witness the 2009 BBC story that cast theft and vandalism as an existential threat to Velib in Paris. Five years later, Velib is still going strong. The most recent entry in the genre is Christopher Matthews’ misguided story on the Bixi bankruptcy in TIME. Headline: “Why America’s Grand Bike-Sharing Experiment Is Failing.”

There’s a reason that Divvy was fed up with Bixi’s software, but TIME didn’t explain why. Photo: John Greenfield

The main mistake Matthews makes is to conflate Bixi’s troubles with the fate of American bike-share overall:

The question now is whether this is the beginning of the end for the bike-sharing experiments that have spread quickly across the U.S. So far, officials from various bike-sharing programs are saying no.

This is a poor way to frame the issue, for a few reasons. While Bixi is the dominant supplier in the American bike-share market, it is far from the only one. Medium-sized systems in Denver, Miami Beach, and Austin use equipment from other companies, so the Bixi bankruptcy doesn’t affect all U.S. bike-share systems.

The American bike-share operators that do use Bixi equipment will probably have serious logistical challenges on their hands, but there are reasons Matthews couldn’t find a single source to back up his doomsday scenario. Bixi itself relies on subcontractors to make most of its equipment and software. In a worst-case scenario where Bixi is broken up, those firms could be tapped to supply bike-share systems with components that integrate with existing equipment.

Matthews doesn’t mention any of these contingencies. He just keeps making the same unsupported claim:

Bixi hasn’t been able to operate profitably and is now owned by the City of Montreal — which only two years ago approved a whopping $108-million bailout package to keep the company afloat. That may call into question the long-term viability of these programs.

Again, other bike-share manufacturers like B-Cycle and Deco Bike aren’t filing for bankruptcy. What Bixi’s financial distress calls into question is Bixi’s management. Two and a half years ago, Montreal’s auditor general lambasted Bixi for having “an illegal organizational structure, inadequate planning and an absence of oversight and accountability.” The company’s most notorious business decision was to part ways with 8D Technologies and its software platform, which had powered an initial run of success in cities like Washington and London. Bixi’s product hasn’t been the same since.

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Bixi Bankruptcy: What Does It Mean for American Bike-Share?

The Montreal-based equipment supplier for several American bike-share systems, including New York’s Citi Bike and Chicago’s Divvy, filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday. It’s unclear exactly how the restructuring or sale of the company known as Bixi will play out, but the bankruptcy filing could accelerate the transition to more robust and reliable hardware and software. It also figures to be a messy process, though the company that operates Citi Bike expressed confidence today that it won’t impede their service.

Photo: Citi Bike

Bixi has always been a strange company. An offshoot of Montreal’s municipal parking contractor, it received significant financial backing from the city of Montreal. Bixi both operates bike-share systems in Canadian cities and runs a subsidiary that supplies bikes, stations, and other equipment to bike-share operators in New York, London, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, DC, and other cities. The subsidiary was supposed to be sold off to disentangle Montreal from Bixi’s business ventures, but according to the Times, two deals fell apart and a sale never happened.

The bankruptcy news is not unexpected. It’s most troubling for Montreal, which is owed several million dollars by Bixi, and for the other Canadian cities where Bixi runs bike-share systems. In New York and the cities where Bixi is a subcontractor, the restructuring or break-up of Bixi could be a blessing in disguise, helping to resolve some longstanding problems with the company’s product.

Until 2012, Bixi’s bike-share equipment ran on a software platform developed by 8D Technologies. That’s what Bixi was using when it bid on and won the NYC bike-share contract with Alta Bike-Share. But after an intellectual property dispute with 8D, Bixi went to a different firm to develop replacement software, and the systems that have launched since the switch — including Citi Bike, Divvy, and Bay-Area Bike-Share — have been plagued by delays, glitches, and inefficiencies. While the software has been updated to some extent, in New York, especially, it’s been a drag on operations and an obstacle to system expansion. Both Citi Bike and Divvy, in Chicago, are withholding payments to Bixi because the software is not up to snuff.

It’s not clear yet whether Bixi’s international operation will be restructured as a financially viable entity, or if it will be broken up. Bixi itself contracted out much of its manufacturing — including the bikes — so in the event that the company gets dissolved, American bike-share operators should be able to find suitable replacement suppliers. One company that’s potentially waiting in the wings is 8D, which has developed equipment including kiosks, docking units, and locking mechanisms to go along with its software.

Shifting from Bixi to different suppliers would be a challenging transition for bike-share operators, but it could appear seamless from the bike-share subscriber’s perspective.

For now, operators supplied by Bixi do not expect the bankruptcy to detract from the customer experience. “We are committed to a thriving and expanded Citi Bike system,” said Dani Simons of NYC Bicycle-Share, the subsidiary of Alta Bike-Share that runs Citi Bike. “We’re still sorting out the details but we don’t expect the news from Montreal to affect our operations in 2014.”

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How Do You Grade a Bike-Share System?

Bike-share has exploded in the last decade — and in North America, just in the last few years. What started as a shaky concept in Amsterdam in the 1960s has matured into a viable transit option worldwide, with 600 systems offering more than 600,000 bikes.

bike-share-guideThe nonprofit Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) is taking stock. Most major cities, if they haven’t already installed bike-share systems, are at least exploring them – and there are a lot of different models to follow, especially as “fourth-generation” bike-share technology develops, like stationless systems.

“Right now is this exciting time where systems are growing and experimenting,” said Colin Hughes, one of the authors of ITDP’s newly released Bike Share Planning Guide. But until now, Hughes said, “there hasn’t been an objective language” to measure bike-share systems.

The ITDP report fills the void with two major yardsticks: the average number of daily trips per bike (four to eight is deemed optimal), and the average daily trips per resident in the coverage area (ideally one trip per 20 to 40 residents). Based on these metrics, seven cities rose to the top of the bike-share heap, in order: Barcelona, Lyon, New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Montreal and Mexico City.

But the new guidebook is less about ranking cities and more about sharing best practices, culled from 25 major bike-share networks across the world. “Our objective is to get more [systems] developed and to make them better,” said Hughes.

The infographic below summarizes the key ingredients of a successful bike-share, such as a recommended 300-meter distance between stations and a minimum coverage area of 10 square kilometers (a little less than four square miles).

The report also guides planners through the nitty-gritty implementation process, from feasibility studies and designs to financial plans. There’s a whole range of decisions to be made along the way. Should stations be moveable or permanent? What’s the government’s role? How do you monitor the performance of a private operator?

A bike-share launch can be an attractive project for a city administration, due to relatively low costs and short timelines compared to other transit modes. It’s typically achievable within a single mayor’s term. (Paris’s Vélib system, for example, took six months to install after contracts were signed.) Hughes noted that it’s usually considered a smart move for a city’s image, as well. “It shows a city is committed to quality of life, committed to health, and considered a clean, fun place to live,” he said. “Those types of investments are attracting the type of growth cities are looking for,” as opposed to “the highways and bridges of the past.”

A major question is how best to achieve financial stability. The report notes that bike-share subscription and usage fees offer stable revenue but rarely cover total operating costs. (Though Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC, comes close, with a 97 percent recovery ratio.) While most systems rely on at least some public funding to cover the gap, a few new models — like New York’s Citi Bike — do not, and should be interesting tests for the all-private funding route.

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Despite Texas DOT’s Shenanigans, El Paso Will Go Ahead With Bike-Share

El Paso bike-share is moving forward, despite Texas DOT’s attempt to kill the whole project. That’s the word today from a state representative in El Paso on the latest development in the city’s proposal for a 200-bike system.

The city of El Paso lined up approval and $2 million in federal and local funds to launch its bike-share system. But the whole project was threatened when TxDOT tried to pull funding last month. In the meantime, Streetsblog did a little investigating about whether the state of Texas actually has the authority to strip federal funds from a project that was approved by the metropolitan planning body as well as the Federal Highway Administration. TxDOT hasn’t responded — but in its own way, the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization has.

It was up to the El Paso MPO’s Transportation Policy Board to decide whether it would grant the state’s request to “deprogram” the bike-share plan and remove it from planning documents altogether. In a vote today, the board chose not to. It seems that the city can move forward with the plans without the state’s blessing.

But as the state representative’s tweet indicated above, there may be more drama to come.

Why does the state of Texas want to strip funding from El Paso’s bike share program? Streetsblog asked them three days ago and we’re still waiting for an answer. It may have something to do with the fact that Texas DOT continues to support unjustified $5 billion+ mega-highways, even though it doesn’t have the money to pay for them.

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Does Texas DOT Have the Authority to Kill Bike-Share in El Paso?

Just a few weeks ago, El Paso was all ready to go with a new bike-share network, or so it seemed. The city had lined up $400,000 in local funds from the city of El Paso, the University of Texas at El Paso and a grant from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The regional planning agency had unanimously signed off on awarding the project $1.6 million in federal transportation funds earmarked for air pollution reduction. Suburban communities had even started expressing interest in being added to the system.

TxDOT is trying to crush El Paso's bike share dreams. But does the agency have the authority? Image: El Paso Times

But last month the Texas Department of Transportation pulled the rug out. TxDOT told local and regional officials it did not support the use of federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds for the project. State officials have been coy about what they’d rather see the money spent on, but they haven’t backed down. And, not content to strip funding, TxDOT officials are now plowing ahead to “deprogram” the whole bike-share project altogether, removing it from contention for any kind of funding.

Bike advocates in the city have been taken aback. After all, TxDOT officials were part of the unanimous vote by the regional planning body to disperse the CMAQ money in May.

“How can TxDOT and the [El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy] Board ever expect the community to trust in the transparency of our public agencies when a program that was planned and approved through legitimate channels was then shelved by bureaucrats in favor of vague, unnamed, and unpublicized projects?” wrote Scott White, a board member at Velo Paso Bicycle-Pedestrian Coalition, in a letter to the planning organization’s board [PDF]. “The board must ask whether TxDOT overstepped its jurisdictional authority, and if so, was this the first time?”

I asked around about the legitimacy of TxDOT’s actions — whether the state agency does indeed have the authority to strip this regionally-approved project of federal funds. TxDOT apparently believes that bike-share isn’t an appropriate use of CMAQ funds. But FHWA’s Texas field office approved the expenditure in [PDF] in June. Furthermore, many bike-share programs around the country have benefited from CMAQ funding, including Washington’s Capital Bikeshare.

I asked Michael Medina, assistant director of the El Paso MPO, where TxDOT’s authority to veto the project comes from. He said: “I am not aware of any statuatory or regulatory power that they have.”

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The American Bike-Share Fleet Has Doubled Since January

The total number of bikes available for bike sharing in the U.S. already doubled this year and is projected to keep on growing. Image: Grist via Earth Policy Institute

This has been an epic year for bike-share in America. According to a report from the Earth Policy Institute, the opening of Bay Area Bike Share yesterday brought the cumulative size of the bike-share fleets in U.S. cities to 18,000 bikes, more than twice what it was at the beginning of 2013.

There are now 34 modern bike-share systems across the U.S. in cities as varied as Chicago, Miami Beach, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, EPI’s Janet Larsen writes in Grist. By the end of next year, Larsen anticipates the number of shared bikes available to the American public will have doubled again.

The year-to-date numbers in 2013 have been bolstered by the opening of New York’s Citi Bike, with 6,000 bikes, and Chicago’s Divvy, with 1,500. Both cities intend to grow their systems substantially. Several smaller systems launched in 2013 as well, including ones in Aspen, Columbus, Fort Worth, and Salt Lake City.

Still, the scale of bike-share systems in U.S. cities trails the size of leading networks in Asia and Europe, Larsen writes. Citi Bike is North America’s largest bike-share system, but it barely cracks the top 20 list of the world’s largest. In first place is Wuhan, China, with 90,000 bikes.

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Highway-Happy Texas DOT Says El Paso Bike-Share Isn’t Eco Enough

The same state department of transportation that is eagerly pursuing a $5.2 billion third outerbelt for Houston yanked $1.6 million from the city of El Paso this week out of concern that the city’s bike-share plans were not “the most efficient ways to address air quality with limited funding.”

No price is too high for a highway in Texas, but El Paso's inexpensive bike-share plans are getting nixed. Image: El Paso Times

According to the El Paso Times, the city’s Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority was preparing to move forward with bike-share after securing some $400,000 in local funds, including funds from City of El Paso and the University of Texas at El Paso.

But officials from the Texas Department of Transportation indicated this week they were withholding the $1.6 federal match. “TxDOT plans to coordinate conversations with transportation partners to garner more information on how we can dedicate those limited funds to important congestion-mitigation projects around the state,” TxDOT said in a memo said, according to the Times.

Scott White, a member of the city’s bike advocacy group VeloPaso, told the Times he was frustrated at TxDOT’s decision.

“This was a great opportunity for the community of El Paso,” White said. “Austin is getting a program. Fort Worth is barely getting it set up. What is so different with those cities that they get one and we don’t?”

Local officials are scrambling to reason with TxDOT to save the 20-station, 200-bike plan. But it may have to be dramatically scaled back.

Perhaps bike-share in El Paso just doesn’t have enough well-connected monied interests in high positions at TxDOT pushing for it?