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The indelible rise of bike sharing


The sharing economy (aka peer to peer or collaborative economy) has rightly received an awful lot of attention over the past year, as a growing number of industries have been disrupted by new ventures have emerged that rock the status quo.

The likes of Air BnB and Lyft have rightly gained much of the publicity, and they have indeed done some fantastic things.  One sector has been quietly going about their business however and have managed to build up a considerable presence in cities all around the world.

I’m talking about bike sharing.  A new report called The Bike Share Planning Guide has been produced by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) to present best practices and case studies of the best implementations of bike sharing from around the world.

“Very few transport innovations have spread as quickly as bike share,” said Walter Hook, ITDP’s Chief Executive Officer. “The vast majority of bike-share systems have all been implemented in the last 10 years. As world-class cities increasingly strive to remain competitive, we wouldn’t be surprised to see continued exponential growth in the next 10. Of course, some cities have done better than others, and The Bike Share Planning Guide presents best practices and case studies of successful systems that is essential reading for anyone planning a bike-share system anywhere in the world.”

The guide focuses on two main metrics to highlight success:

  1. Average number of daily trips per bike
  2. Average daily trips per resident

You can see below that seven cities score particularly highly on both scores.

  • Barcelona, which averages 10.8 trips per bike and 67.9 trips per 1,000 residents;
  • Lyon, which averages 8.3 trips per bike and 55.1 trips per 1,000 residents;
  • Mexico City, which averages 5.5 trips per bike and 158.2 trips per 1,000 residents;
  • Montreal, which averages 6.8 trips per bike and 113.8 trips per 1,000 residents;
  • New York City, which averages 8.3 trips per bike and 42.7 trips per 1,000 residents;
  • Paris, which averages 6.7 trips per bike and 38.4 trips per 1,000 residents; and
  • Rio de Janeiro, which averages 6.9 trips per bike and 44.2 trips per 1,000 residents.

The report outlines five elements that it believes are critical to success with a bike sharing scheme:

  • Station Density: A quality system needs 10-16 stations for every square kilometer, providing an average spacing of approximately 300 meters between stations and a convenient walking distance from each station to any point in between. Lower station densities can reduce usage rates.
  • Bikes per Residents: 10-30 bikes should be available for every 1,000 residents within the coverage area. Larger, denser cities and metropolitan regions with an influx of commuters into the area served by the system should have more bikes available to meet the needs of both commuters and residents. Systems with a lower ratio of bikes to residents may not meet this need during peak demand periods, reducing system usage and reliability.
  • Coverage Area: The minimum area covered by a system should be 10 square kilometers, large enough to contain a significant number of user origins and destinations. Smaller areas may drive down system usage.
  • Quality Bikes: Bikes should be durable, attractive and practical (with a front basket to carry bags, packages or groceries). The bicycles should also have specially designed parts and sizes, which discourages theft and resale.
  • Easy-to-Use Stations: The process of checking out a bicycle should be simple. The payment and authorization technology utilized should have an easy-to-use interface, a fully automated locking system and real-time monitoring of occupancy rates (to track whether more or fewer bikes are needed for each station).

Bike sharing schemes have been hugely successful, both in making our urban areas nicer places to live and work, and also fulfilling the last mile question that has often vexed planners, as people commute into the city centre for work, and then have to find their way from the station to their office.  Providing well stocked bike sharing facilities at these stations has provided an essential facility for the smooth running of many an urban environment.

With the first of the modern point to point systems we are familiar with today coming to market in 2001 it has been a rapid rise for bike sharing.  The first few years saw a number of schemes iron out various issues, but from 2006 onwards the popularity of bike sharing has been on an upward trajectory as more and more cities and their inhabitants make use of them.

It will be interesting to see if other sectors in the sharing economy follow a similar trajectory.

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