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Posts about Bike Sharing


Two Congressmen want to give bikeshare programs more federal money

Federal law doesn't define bikeshare programs as public transportation, which means they aren't eligible for the sustained funding that most transit is. If a new bill becomes a law, that would change.

Photo by Chris Reed on Flickr.

Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL), both members of the Congressional Bike Caucus, introduced the Bikeshare Transit Act last week. The law would make bikeshare eligible for funds dedicated to public transportation, clearing up confusion that both local communities and the Department of Transportation often face when it comes to keeping bikeshare programs up and running.

There are over 50 bikeshare programs in the US, with our very own Capital Bikeshare being the biggest. While many were started with federal money, funding continued operations has been a challenge. The Bikeshare Transit Act will help pay for everything from bike repairs and keeping rebalancing vans on the road to system expansions and new technology.

In addition to defining bikeshare as public transportation, the bill proposes to make bikeshare an eligible project under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, which supports surface transportation efforts that work to improve air quality. Since bikes are powered by people and emit no pollution, it makes sense for bikeshare programs to receive CMAQ funding.

The American Planning Association is one of many organizations that support this bill.

"Bikeshare programs are helping communities large and small create new and needed transportation options while also improving local economies and quality of life," said APA President Carol Rhea, FAICP. "Bikeshare has become a proven tool for building stronger, more vibrant, and more resilient communities. APA and the nation's planners applaud the introduction of the bipartisan Bikeshare Transit Act. This legislation will make sure that federal policies and investments recognize what residents and cities already know: that bikeshare works."

Crossposted at American Planning Association's Policy News for Planners.


How public and private came together to make Capital Bikeshare a success

Gabe Klein, former transportation chief in DC and later Chicago, has just published a book, Start-Up City. We're pleased to present a few excerpts. In this one, Gabe talks about how DC's first experiment with bike sharing, Smartbike, turned into the wildly successful Capital Bikeshare.

Photo by Stephen Rees on Flickr.

Like the much larger Vélib bike-share system in Paris, which was run by advertising giant JCDecaux, our SmartBike program had been launched and operated by Clear Channel, who also contracted with the city to advertise on bus shelters. SmartBike was only one component of a much larger contract.

Unfortunately for the city, one line at the end of our agreement outlined the private partner's lackluster commitment to the program. It stated that Clear Channel agreed to set up and operate a bike-share program in Washington, DC That's it! Oh no, I thought, this was not terribly sound footing on which to expand our partnership, but let's meet them and see.

In my first meeting with Clear Channel, a few things became clear. They felt that the District had gotten a very rich, fifteen-year deal and associated revenue stream for the bus-shelter contract. They even mentioned that DC had "signed the contract at the height of the market." My reaction? "Not really the District's problem."

Furthermore, they had recently been purchased by Bain Capital, of Mitt Romney fame, and had little interest in "municipal street furniture," as they saw the program. Lastly, they had no contractual obligation to expand the program, which was true. We were victims of minimal planning for success by government, and an amorphous contract that gave the private sector an easy out.

At the end of the day, our incentives were not aligned, and the SmartBike program died as a result. However, this ended up being a blessing in disguise in the long run.

Capital Bikeshare is born of partnerships

Luckily, Arlington County, Virginia, was planning to launch a bike sharing program around the same time as it became clear that SmartBike's demise was imminent. Because I had a history of partnering with the county, Capital Bikeshare became the first of many projects that we would work on across borders during my tenure. Arlington had already put a procurement process in motion for a bike sharing system and was in the process of receiving bids from vendors.

As many jurisdictions do, typically through their regional planning authority, we combined our efforts with Arlington's procurement process to save time and build a regional program. In terms of financing the system, we wanted to use federal money for 80 percent of the cost and applied for Congestion Mitigation Air and Quality funds through the regional metropolitan planning organization. All we needed now was the mayor's agreement to put $1 million into a revamped bike-share program.

My entire conversation with Mayor Fenty about Capital Bikeshare was less than ten minutes. I told him what I wanted to do, and he asked me three simple questions:

  • Could our system be the biggest in the United States? Yes.
  • Will it be the best? Yes, absolutely.
  • Can we minimize the capital DC puts in and could it break even or be profitable operationally? I said, "I think so," and aimed to make that happen. ...
The DDOT bike team was doing a lot of the planning and outreach for the system's initial ninety planned stations in DC proper. We set up a website and crowdsourced public input about where people wanted bike stations in their DC and Arlington neighborhoods. We had just finished rebooting our transportation demand management (TDM) program, known as goDCgo, and had again partnered with Arlington County to bring their nationally recognized TDM program to DC. The new program was essentially top-flight marketing, promotion, and outreach for alternative transportation options. This team was put in charge of coordinating the marketing for the new bicycle transit system.

In keeping with our strong outward communications plan, we partnered with local blogs like the influential and widely read Greater Greater Washington and crowdsourced the name for the system, which became Capital Bikeshare. That name organically became "CaBi" for short. The system's website went through multiple iterations until it felt more like a polished private-sector offering such as Zipcar, rather than a stale and opaque city website. Ö

By the time we opened the system in September 2010, there was a palpable level of excitement from the public. At our launch event at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Southeast DC, we brought all the bikes out and had the public sign up to ride them back to stations throughout the city. Throughout the bike share process we had involved the public at every stage, and we wanted them to feel ownership. This was the people's bicycle transit system, CaBi.

Capital Bikeshare launches to rave reviews

We were careful to gradually launch stations for Capital Bikeshare, and later followed the same pattern with Divvy in Chicago. It's crucial for a system to be operationally sound, if not close to flawless, the first time a user tries it.

Like any service, you are only as good as the first experience a customer has, and we aimed to learn the rebalancing patterns from day one to avoid empty or full stations as much as possible, which are the bane of the bike-share user experience. Starting with 50 stations in DC, we ramped up to 110 stations regionally before the end of 2011 when Adrian Fenty left office. The reviews were in and the public loved Capital Bikeshare.

Today there are more than 350 stations spanning DC, Maryland, and Virginia, making it the second largest bike share in the United States by number of stations as of this writing, with more than 10 million trips taken!

In DC, the system broke even on an operations basis (give or take a few thousand dollars) from day one. Keep in mind that this is with zero advertising until 2014 and no sponsorship agreement, two conditions that would be highly unusual today. On top of that it is one of the more expensive systems to run based on it being the first large contract in the United States with no benchmarks on which to base it.

How did we pull it off? The user experience was solid. The locals were loyal and signed up in droves. More than 30 percent of initial usage was by tourists and visitors. We had projected single-digit percentage visitor use because SmartBike had no daily use option. The $7 daily user fee subsidized the yearly $75 membership for locals (28 cents per day).

Without any advertising at all, the system could foreseeably generate enough profit to fund the 20-percent match needed for capitalization of new equipment for expansion, or replacement of old bikes and stations down the road. With advertising and sponsorship this was virtually assured.

Fundamentally though, I credit the relationships among all of the parties involved and the collaboration as being the most important factors in the system's financial stability and success.

This excerpt has been edited for length. You can purchase Start-Up City from Amazon, or until October 26, half off directly from Island Press. See Gabe Klein speak and sign books on November 4 at the National Building Museum at 12:30, that night at BicycleSpace in Adams Morgan at 7:30, or at Upshur Street Books on November 24th at 7 pm.


What cities are learning about making bike sharing more equitable

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:

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

The appeal of monthly membership plans

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.

People who have less predictable personal finances and income benefit from the flexibility of shorter-term memberships, NACTO says. Low-income people are more likely to purchase short-term transit passes, and the same reasoning applies to bike-share.

Although monthly payments can create some uncertainty for bike-share operators, that can be managed with options like auto-renewing monthly passes, NACTO reports. Monthly payments can also serve as a reminder to use the system and boost ridership.

Clearly communicating costs is incredibly important

"Absolute cost is rarely highlighted as a major barrier" in focus groups or anecdotal accounts from bike-share officials, NACTO says. What appears to play a bigger role is uncertainty over what the bike-share service will cost.

A 2012 focus group of Emerson University students found that "the cost of Hubway is not the factor that limits students from using the service, but rather the confusion and inefficient method of making the payments."

Make payment convenient

One factor that's often flagged about bike-share systems is making them accessible to the "unbanked"—people without credit or debit cards. About 8 percent of Americans are unbanked, though there is a great deal of variation from city to city and neighborhood to neighborhood.

To tackle this problem, Philadelphia offers cash memberships to low-income people. Interestingly, the city found that about a third of people buying cash memberships renewed with credit cards, presumably because it was easier. Still, having the option to make the initial purchase with cash is one less barrier to entry.

Advertise discount membership options on kiosks

Low-income people get most of their information about bike-share directly from the bike-share kiosks, a Philadelphia study found. So if the kiosks only offer informations about daily rates or regular annual rates—and not special discounts for qualifying groups—many people will never know those options are available.

In New York City, anecdotal accounts revealed that many low-income people thought the $9.95 daily rate was the only option and weren't aware of the reduced price $60 annual membership.

"Improving the information presented on the kiosk—both content and graphic layout—is an important and low-cost way to increase ridership," NACTO reports.

Provide a physical key

Providing members with a key—the way they do in Philadelphia and Austin—can serve "as a physical reminder that bike-share is available and shortens time spent getting a bike," NACTO reports.

But if people have to wait too long to receive a key in the mail, that can be a barrier as well. Pronto Bike Share in Seattle can dispense keys for short-term use right from the kiosks.

Make it easy to qualify for membership discounts

Boston is the big national success story on bike-share equity. About 18 percent of its members are low-income, the result, NACTO says, of extensive outreach.

But Boston also makes getting a membership cheap and easy for low-income people. The reduced annual rate is just $5 and Boston does not require those members to prove they qualify for assistance. The program works on the honor system.

Even so, locals don't think the program is being abused. A review of the program found 64 percent of people paying the discount rate are also "on public assistance," NACTO reports.

There must be enough stations in low-income neighborhoods to make it worthwhile

If there are just a few scattered stations in low-income neighborhoods, the system won't provide enough value to low-income people to justify the cost.

Low-income people who do have memberships may use bike-share more than other members

Once low-income people sign up for bike-share, evidence suggests they use it more than affluent subscribers. In Boston last year, low-income men with discounted memberships on average took 18 more trips than men who paid the full cost. And in Philadelphia, cash memberships represent 1 percent of total memberships but 4 percent of trips.

Crossposted from Streetsblog.


Empty bikeshare stations don't always mean long waits

When a bikeshare station is empty, or an app tells you it's only got a bike or two left, should you just try another station? In both cases, waiting it out is often the best bet for getting a bike most quickly.

Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

A team of data scientists at TransitScreen recently put some thought into how to make information about bikeshare more helpful. Rather than just showing "0 bikes" at an empty station, for example, we wondered whether we could predict how long you would wait to get a bike at that station.

Using Capital Bikeshare data from 2012 through 2014, we calculated the probability of the bike count increasing or decreasing within five minutes. We did this for each station, then we smoothed this probability across hours, days, and months.

We looked at five different stations where more than 10 bikes per hour were turning over, but ended up looking most closely at the Thomas Circle station at 14th & M St NW. This 33-dock station was particularly interesting since its place on a border between residential and commercial neighborhoods leads to rapid turnover throughout the day.

We noticed the wait was most predictable at bikeshare stations that see a lot of turnover, like Thomas Circle. When that's the case, it's highly likely a bike will be available within a reasonable amount of time (even if you're in a hurry). And when there aren't many bikes left at a station, there's still a good chance that one will be available within a given five minute stretch.

If it's rush hour, waiting is a good call

Imagine you're working near Thomas Circle and looking to run an errand at 5 pm on a Tuesday. You rush over to the bikeshare station only to find it empty. What should you do?

The data shows that if you wait for five minutes, there is a 50% chance a bike will appear. Considering how long it might take to walk to the next-closest station, five minutes might not be so bad!

If the same situation came up at 1 pm, however, you'd only have a 20% chance of getting a bike within five minutes. Waiting would probably be a waste of time, and you might want to find another bikeshare station (or choose another transportation mode altogether).

Chance of bikes appearing within five minutes at different times of day. The station is Thomas Circle, the time is a weekday during May. Graphs from TransitScreen.

It's rare for a station to go from having few bikes to actually having zero

Let's say that next week, at the same time, you check an app like TransitScreen before leaving your building. This time, the dock isn't empty...but it only has one bike.

What's the chance there won't be any bikes left after the five minutes it takes you to walk there? It turns out even at the busiest time, evening rush, it's still 60% likely a bike will still be there when you arrive.

Chance of a single bike remaining after 5 minutes at different times of day. Station is Thomas Circle, time is a weekday during May.

Similar ideas hold for returning bikes to full stations

It's not uncommon for people to get "dockblocked," which is when you go to return a bikeshare bike but the station is full.

Anecdotally, this seems even more common than people waiting at empty stations. It's possible that's because it's just easier to see a person waiting with a bike rather than one who is empty-handed. It could also be that people who need to return bikes are willing to wait longer because they've just finished a ride and they're feeling tired.

Either way, like with empty stations, we predict that in a lot of cases, it makes sense to wait rather than find another station.

We can do similar studies for other stations

We used Thomas Circle as our example, but as long as it has open bikeshare data, we can study stations with high bike turnover in any city—New York, Boston, London, or Paris—With a combination of "big data" and data science, it turns out bikeshare systems are surprisingly predictable!

Three dockblocked riders patiently waiting in Dublin. Photo by Ryan Croft.

I'd like to thank Erin Boyle for doing the coding and analysis for our recent research. Dan Gohlke shared his CaBiTracker data store with us, and we used open source code from the Data Science for Social Good group.


Alexandria has identified locations for its next 16 bikeshare stations

The City of Alexandria might not follow through on plans to add 16 new Capital Bikeshare stations throughout the city this year. But if it does, city staff have identified the general areas the new stations are likely to go.

Capital Bikeshare stations overlaid on crowdsourced demand map (Click to enlarge). Map by the author from City of Alexandria data.

City staff presented the expansion information at the Alexandria's transportation commission's December. (The overlay map above reflects a slightly updated set of locations I received after reaching out to the city this week.)

The locations are based on the city's public crowdsourcing maps, connectivity to transit, proximity to mixed-use activity centers, and whether the location was within .25 mile of an existing station.

Technical considerations like direct sunlight to power the stations, adequate space, flat ground, and utility clearances will be important in choosing the exact site for each station.

The new stations would be primarily to the east, in Old Town, Del Ray, Potomac Yard, and surrounding areas. But three new stations would add to the cluster in Fairlington, and Eisenhower East will recieve a new station as well. Though there's definitely a demand for stations in West End, activity centers, density, and a lack of nearby stations could make it harder for stations in those areas to be successful.

What else do you notice about the locations?


Here are America's largest bikesharing systems as of 2014

As US bikesharing continues to boom, it's fun to look back each year and see how systems have grown. Now that we're into the grind of 2015, let's look back on 2014 and see what changed.

2014 was a modest year for US bikesharing expansion, compared to the incredible boom of 2013. Overall, the number of bikeshare stations nationwide increased about 20%, from 1,925 in 2013 to 2,345 in 2014. San Diego Seattle launched the largest new system, with 117 49 stations.

Washington's Capital Bikeshare regained its crown as largest overall network, growing from 305 stations to 347 stations. Last year's champ, New York's Citibike, actually lost two stations and dropped from 330 to 328. Chicago rounds out the top tier, with the same number of stations it had last year: 300 exactly. No other system tops 200 stations.

Fourteen Thirteen new bikesharing systems opened nationwide, and four small existing ones closed, bringing the US total up to 49 active systems.

Here's the complete list of all US systems. New ones are marked in bold. Previous years are available for comparison.

RankCity2013 Stations2014 Stations
1Washington (regional)305347
2New York330328
4Minneapolis (regional)170169
5Boston (regional)132140
6San Diego0117
7Miami Beach9794
9San Francisco (regional)6770
10San Antonio5153
14(t)Fort Worth3434
26Ft Lauderdale (regional)2521
27(t)Kansas City1220
27(t)Salt Lake City1220
30Long Beach, NY1314
31Washington State Univ (Pullman, WA)911
33Greenville, SC68
34(t)Oklahoma City77
36(t)Des Moines66
36(t)Ann Arbor06
38Univ of Buffalo (Buffalo, NY)45
39(t)Univ of Califonia Irvine (Irvine, CA)44
39(t)Spartanburg, SC44
41(t)Stony Brook Univ (Stony Brook, NY)33
44(t)Kailua, HI22
44(t)Roseburg VA Hospital (Roseburg, OR)22
44(t)Hailey, ID2
44(t)Rapid City02
Fullerton, CA (closed)100
Georgia Tech (Atlanta, Ga) (closed)90
George Mason Univ (Fairfax, VA) (closed)70
Lansing (closed)40

Systems marked with a ~ are stationless bikeshare networks, in which each bike contains a lock and can be docked anywhere. The number of "stations" listed for three of these four systems (Phoenix, Tampa, and Orlando) is approximate and was calculated by dividing the overall number of bicycles by eight. The fourth system, Hailey, has only six bikes but they're located in two distinct clusters, so it seems most appropriate to report two stations.

Counting the number of bikes rather than stations would be a more accurate way to rank systems, but that information is more difficult and time-consuming to obtain.

Correction: This post originally reported that San Diego's bikeshare network opened in 2014. It was originally scheduled to do so, but delays pushed its opening to 2015.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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