2013 on track to be the year of the bike share

By Robbie Webber

While bike share has grown across North America since the first program was launched here in 2008, 2013 looks to be the year with the largest roll-out yet. Twenty or more new systems are planned to open this year in this country and Vancouver, BC, although programs do not always open on schedule. Six more programs are expected in 2014, and that number could grow as plans develop for new systems. Bike share systems often can be planned and implemented in as little as 12 months.

The Washington, DC, Capital Bikeshare system announced their highest one-day ride total on Saturday, April 13. The Cherry Blossom Festival, beautiful spring weather, and a Nationals game all made an ideal day for use of the system, which has quickly become a favorite transportation option for tourists and locals alike. The DC system record could easily climb higher this year as tourists travel to the nation’s capital and the system is expanded in both the District and Arlington, VA.

The Citibike program in New York, the largest system so far in the U.S., has been delayed by a series of software problems and Hurricane Sandy. However, it sold out its 5,000 “founding member” spots in less than 30 hours when they went on sale on April 15. Founding members received a few additional benefits over the standard yearly membership, but the bike sharing service will not be available until an unspecified date in May. The rush of support showed a hunger for another transportation choice in a city that already offers a cornucopia of options. By next year, the city, with partners Alta Bike Share and Citibank hope to have 10,000 bikes in 600 stations in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

Both these systems are in large, dense cities, but bike share programs are already running in communities of all sizes, geographic areas, and densities, and the new systems planned for 2013 will also span the country and size spectrum. Chicago’s bike share system, the second attempt to establish a program in that city, is the largest planned after New York’s. However, there are already bike share systems running in Des Moines, Tulsa, Chattanooga, San Antonio, and many other cities across the U.S.

The management and funding structure can vary from a commercial enterprise to a city-run or non-profit model. Like other transportation modes, none is entirely supported by user fees; but most cities find that bike share programs quickly become an integral part of the entire transportation network. Transit agencies find that pairing with a bike share program extends the transit shed of their stations and stops, capturing riders that might not be willing to walk to a station but find using a bike share for the first and last mile a natural fit.

Bike share use seems to be most popular among two groups: commuters who access the city via carpooling or transit, and tourists or business travelers visiting the city. Bike share trips are especially attractive when distances are too far to walk and too short for, or not served by, transit. Both of these groups are likely to make the types of short trips during the day that are best served by bike, but they may not have access to a private bicycle in the city center.

While bike sharing  initially was not well understood and was seen as a risky investment for a city to subsidize, the continued success of programs in communities of all sizes has increased both support for and interest in expansion across the country.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.