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Is a Bike-Sharing Program Right for My City?

While bike-sharing programs have seen increasing popularity around the world in the last few years, they’re not a new idea by any means. The beginnings of bike-sharing programs began in the 1960s. These days it seems like almost all large cities have a minimum of one bike-sharing program. Bike-sharing programs are a great way to promote environmentally friendly transportation options. Bike sharing can also reduce rush-hour congestion in large cities, promote healthier lifestyles for citizens, and enhance public transit options. 

But implementing a bike-sharing system is not quite as easy as parking some bikes in the centre of town that you can unlock with an app. In order to develop a successful bike-sharing program for your community you’ll need some quality data and research.

Bike-Sharing Successes Around the World

One of the most successful bike-sharing programs in the world, according to A. Nikitas in How to Save Bike-Sharing, is the city of Hangzhou, China. The city runs Hangzhou Public Bicycle. At the end of 2018 the system had 100,000 bikes, and 4100 movable docking stations around the city. Some of the key success factors for Hangzhou are:  

  • low subscription fee (the first hour of use is free, each hour after there is a small fee)
  • bikes are conveniently located and easy to access 
  • support from local authorities 
  • complete integration with other transit options in the city 
  • Hangzhou is a city well suited for riding bikes because of its climate and topography
  • Hangzhou has specific green zones in the city that promote cycling and pedestrian traffic 

Here in Canada, Bixi Montreal is also very successful. This non-profit program is run by the City of Montreal and had 7250 bikes, and 600 stations, at the end of 2018, with plans to expand further. An annual subscription costs only $94, and members also get a discount with the local car-sharing service. Bixi is quite well used in the city, with more than one million trips made annually. Bixi owes its success, in part, to the accessibility of its bikes, its status as a publicly run non-profit, and its ability to integrate with other sharing services. 

image2-4The main thing that these two programs - and other successful programs around the world - share is that they are user-centric, not profit-centric. Both cities also have bike-positive cultures, and are fairly safe places to ride. The programs are also customized to specifically serve the needs of their city. Bike-sharing programs are not one-size-fits-all. 

What to Consider When Developing a Bike-Share Strategy

Before your community commits to creating any kind of bike-sharing program, your Council would be wise to do some market research and collect some data. While plenty of successful bike-sharing programs exist around the world, there are also significant examples of program failures. Many of the failures have common themes, like expanding too fast, having unrealistic profit expectations, and trying to implement an exact replica of a program from another city. 

A successful bike-sharing program needs a bike-friendly local culture, excellent road safety, and bike-friendly infrastructure. It also needs to focus on user needs instead of profit margins. 

If you want to consider implementing a bike-sharing strategy for your city you’ll need good data. MDB Insight’s Citizen Satisfaction IQ™ survey can collect the representative data your Council needs to decide whether or not it's the right time to pursue a bike-sharing program, or to start the preliminary work of getting your city ready for a bike-sharing program - like improving infrastructure and safety, and promoting ridership. An excellent place to start some research is with the article How to Save Bike-Sharing, by A. Nikitas, published in June of 2019. 

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References: 

How to Save Bike-Sharing by A. Nikitas, June 9, 2019 https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/11/11/3206/pdf 
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320877499_Bike-sharing_systems_and_congestion_Evidence_from_US_cities

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