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  1. #1
    Junior Member greenfleet's Avatar
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    Is Public Bike Share an Unwanted Child?

    Just heard a piece on NPR about the growth of public bike share. I'm wondering how everyone feels about:

    1) The current American bike share model (or lack of one?)
    2) How it is being presented to / discussed in the media?
    3) What happens when bike share starts to lose support from private sponsors (like in London this week)

    My feelings: http://greenfleetbikes.com/blogs/new...e-not-potatoes
    Last edited by greenfleet; 12-12-13 at 04:01 PM. Reason: link edit

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    PatronSaintOfDiscBrakes dynaryder's Avatar
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    Capital Bikeshare in DC is a big success. I use it to go back and forth to Metro(subway),and sometimes in the winter when I don't feel like riding one of my bikes through the salt.

    It's all about implementation. The old SmartBike system only had a few bikes/stations,so it was pretty much doomed from the start. CaBi rolled out with many bikes/stations,and has expanded to cover a very wide area,so it works much better. In the beginning there were teething pains due to full/empty docks,but they've gotten their rebalancing down pretty good. If you lived and worked in the downtown area,you could actually use CaBi and not have to own a bike.

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  3. #3
    Disco Infiltrator Darth Lefty's Avatar
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    Traveling this summer, Velib seemed like an enormous success in Paris but the bike share in Rome was a cruel hoax... If a city is going to do it, they need to do it like they mean it.

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    Bike share is about convenience. Since convenience is the main attraction, everything depends on that. It's absolutely critical that docking stations are ubiquitous, and there's always space to return bikes.

    If there aren't docking stations where people want to pick up or return a bike or if people had to hunt around for them, then the entire raison d'etre is lost and ridership will decline. Fewer riders, mean less usage, which means less dough, which means fewer bikes and docking stations which......
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    Transportation Cyclist turbo1889's Avatar
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    Also, I've never used a bike share program but I have used rental bikes and it is highly important that the bikes be of a certain type. Namely tougher then nails and simple and safe with easily adjustable seat height at minimum if necessary some increased weight penalty to accomplish this is acceptable.

    Nothing is worse then a rental bike that has problems and doesn't work right. I would imagine the same is true of a bike share program. Also flat tires fall into this same category, fixing a flat on a rental can be a real annoyance. Best to go with a puncture resistant really tough tire and tube so that hardly anyone ever has to mess with a flat again a little more wheel weight to spin as a result but I'd rather have that on a rental (or bike share) then have to mess around with fixing a flat on a rental (or bike share).

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by turbo1889 View Post

    Nothing is worse then a rental bike that has problems and doesn't work right. I would imagine the same is true of a bike share program. Also flat tires fall into this same category, fixing a flat on a rental can be a real annoyance. .
    This is one more reason that docking stations have to be ubiquitous. Get a flat or have a problem, and walk a block or two to the nearest station and switch bikes. I don't know if the bike share program in NYC has a system for reporting mechanical problems, but at least the renter faces minimum inconvenience.
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    Judging from the leading question that titles this thread and the link to your blog, which is a promotional web site for a private bike rental entity I would conjecture there is a certain amount of bias behind your query.

    I hate to run counter to the "unwanted child" label but I have used the bike share in London, watched as the Citibikes were rolled out in NYC last summer and live in Boston, where the Hubway bikes are moving into their third year. My observation has been that all three are highly successful. I say this as someone who managed a bike shop that did a thriving rental business in a summer tourist destination.

    Bike share is here to stay because it works and satisfies a need that standard private rentals just can't compete with adequately.

  8. #8
    Senior Member bbbean's Avatar
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    I'm inclined to think bike share is like a lot of things that sound great over a few beers, but turn out to be far more complicated in practice. I have a hard time seeing this as a workable model for widespread use.
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    ---- buzzman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbbean View Post
    I'm inclined to think bike share is like a lot of things that sound great over a few beers, but turn out to be far more complicated in practice. I have a hard time seeing this as a workable model for widespread use.
    Have you tried it?

    Is it in use in a city you visit regularly or live in? If not, what do you base your judgements on?

  10. #10
    Senior Member bbbean's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by buzzman View Post
    Have you tried it?

    Is it in use in a city you visit regularly or live in? If not, what do you base your judgements on?
    Yes. I've tried it. I'm also basing my opinion on reading articles, blogs, and studies. Most recently, listening to a report on NPR on bikeshare usage and demographics. A few decdes of experience working with ideas that sound good but are more complicated in practice also comes into play.

    Why do you ask? Is my opinion so outlandish?

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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbbean View Post
    I'm inclined to think bike share is like a lot of things that sound great over a few beers, but turn out to be far more complicated in practice. I have a hard time seeing this as a workable model for widespread use.
    I was skeptical, but am slowly coming around to cautious pessimism.

    I see bikeshare as different from classical bicycle rentals.

    Rentals have traditionally been about recreation, as in Sunday riding in the park, or spending a day exploring a city on two wheels. In that way rental is more like traditional ownership without the long term commitment.

    Bikeshare is more along the lines of how people use taxis. It's short haul transit, not all day recreation. The roles are very different, and the appeal likewise different. At the moment, some people are gaming the Bikeshare model (short rides are cheap, or free by subscription, but long term use is discouraged by the pricing scheme), by switching bikes every half hour or so, but I suspect that can grow old.

    IMO- if vandalism, or other issues don't kill it off (source of my skepticism in NYC) Bikeshare is here to stay because it fills a transport niche so nicely. Rental shops will need to clarify their niche, and focus on nicer bikes that are more fun to ride. They might also seque into tourism by providing maps and guides to local attractions, thereby creating an experience very different than what Bikeshare is about.

    In any case, it's far too soon to make any reasoned inferences about bikeshare's viability. I suspect the concept will thrive in dense cities where there are plenty of short transport runs, but possibly not do as well where there's more sprawl, with distances too long for the average citizen, and where docking stations cannot be located as densely. As said earlier, docking station density is key to Bikeshare's niche.

    Here in NY I expect it to do well in Manhattan below 96th street & dwontown Brooklyn, but not so well in Queens and the Bronx, and probably not at all on Staten Island.
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  12. #12
    ---- buzzman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbbean View Post
    Yes. I've tried it. I'm also basing my opinion on reading articles, blogs, and studies. Most recently, listening to a report on NPR on bikeshare usage and demographics. A few decdes of experience working with ideas that sound good but are more complicated in practice also comes into play.

    Why do you ask? Is my opinion so outlandish?

    BB

    Not outlandish at all. It's just runs counter to my experience with them in 3 different cities so I'm curious as to what you based the opinion on.

    I'm simply basing my opinion on how workable I found them in London - albeit with some limitations- how friends and acquaintances are successfully using them on a daily basis in NYC, Boston and Washington D.C.

    I've read articles denouncing them, idolizing them and everything in between but the proof for me is first hand accounts from people I know that use them and like them and my own experiences.

    When you tried it what did you find that was more complicated in practice than how it sounded in principal?
    Last edited by buzzman; 12-12-13 at 09:16 PM.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Dave Cutter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by buzzman View Post
    ...... Bike share is here to stay because it works and satisfies a need that standard private rentals just can't compete with adequately.
    Competition with a government entity? Compete with a business model that has no concern for profit?

    Military forts, posts, and bases used to have recreational equipment for use and/or rent as did some national parks. It took many years for local businesses to ban together and work their way through the courts. Causing a ban on such federally funded recreation programs. If there is a viable opportunity for successful bike rentals..... it will end up in private [for profit] hands.

    I really doubt any of us will be renting bicycles for short-quick trips around downtown Detroit.... or any of the other roughly two dozen failing American cities. When cities can't pay basic service employees.... parks and recreational activities are sometimes overlooked. Federal funding has kept bicycle centric projects going in my area. But I don't expect to see bike rental projects sweeping the nation.

    I would guess some cities will enjoy hugely popular, successful, and expanding bicycle rental programs. While similar programs run in other cities will fail miserably. Then both the successful and the failed programs will end-up in private hands by order of the courts.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Chicago Al's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by buzzman View Post
    Judging from the leading question that titles this thread and the link to your blog, which is a promotional web site for a private bike rental entity I would conjecture there is a certain amount of bias behind your query.

    I hate to run counter to the "unwanted child" label but I have used the bike share in London, watched as the Citibikes were rolled out in NYC last summer and live in Boston, where the Hubway bikes are moving into their third year. My observation has been that all three are highly successful. I say this as someone who managed a bike shop that did a thriving rental business in a summer tourist destination.

    Bike share is here to stay because it works and satisfies a need that standard private rentals just can't compete with adequately.
    The Divvy bikeshare in Chicago, launched this year, appears to be very successful...they are all over downtown and on hipster highways like Milwaukee Ave. People seem to be using them for 'last mile' commuting from the El and Metra stations to their offices and back again. I hear people (mostly youngish) talk about using them for short trips.

    I don't think a Divvy would be the best bike for riding all day, but tourists during the summer sure were using them on the Lakefront path.

    As buzzman says, the OP evidently has a proprietary interest in bikeshare programs not working, so perhaps these are not opinions and observations he really wants to hear.
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    When I in lived Manhattan, my range for walking rather than bike or subway (busses were hopless and taxis only for when loaded with stuff) was about one mile or so (20 minutes). It wasn't worth risking losing my bike to theft for utility runs that short, plus there could be issues lugging stuff home. Shopping was often walk out, taxi back.

    When I moved to the burbs, I'd bring my bike in on the train, and use it for getting around. Since this summer, I've left the bike home, taken the train in and used bike share. Likewise if I go back to Paris, Bikeshare will replace long distance walking, as a quick way to get around.

    Of course there's no way a Bikeshare bike is a decent ride, but it's a good replacement for walking. Looking at Citibike's success in Manhattan, I suspect I'm not the only one sliding Citibikes between foot and cabs or mass transit.
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  16. #16
    ---- buzzman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Cutter View Post
    Competition with a government entity? Compete with a business model that has no concern for profit?

    Military forts, posts, and bases used to have recreational equipment for use and/or rent as did some national parks. It took many years for local businesses to ban together and work their way through the courts. Causing a ban on such federally funded recreation programs. If there is a viable opportunity for successful bike rentals..... it will end up in private [for profit] hands.

    I really doubt any of us will be renting bicycles for short-quick trips around downtown Detroit.... or any of the other roughly two dozen failing American cities. When cities can't pay basic service employees.... parks and recreational activities are sometimes overlooked. Federal funding has kept bicycle centric projects going in my area. But I don't expect to see bike rental projects sweeping the nation.

    I would guess some cities will enjoy hugely popular, successful, and expanding bicycle rental programs. While similar programs run in other cities will fail miserably. Then both the successful and the failed programs will end-up in private hands by order of the courts.
    Private taxicabs compete with buses, subways and other public transportation. When traveling from NYC to upstate NY I have the option of taking a private bus line or a publicly funded commuter train. Same thing if I travel from Boston to Providence, RI.

    I see bike share as part of the publicly funded mass transit system- except it provides more autonomy and flexibility, to some degree, to the user.

    As the NPR article points out low income users are harder to attract to the Bike Share system at the present time. I rode past the housing project they make mention of in the article all summer long and it's true, it was one of the few stands that had bikes in it all the time. But there were streams of Citibike users exiting the bridge and riding past it headed to other parts of Brooklyn. Regarding the demographics, my observations of riders in NYC seemed fairly balanced in terms of gender and a fairly wide age range so I'd be interested to see how they are determining the age, income and gender of users.

    The problem with the system being credit card based is certainly challenging for the low income community that has no credit or bank affiliations but it also would mean that it would be a challenge to the system provider with regard user accountability for a lost or stolen bike.

    It is a system with many limitations for sure but it is very workable for many urban areas and with some creativity could serve more economically challenged areas in a very positive fashion- I wouldn't totally rule it out for a city like Detroit just yet.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Dave Cutter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by buzzman View Post
    Private taxicabs compete with buses, subways and other public transportation.
    Compete? Really? Mass transit [generally speaking] costs vast sums of money. The NYC subway is the worlds largest public transportation system.... costing taxpayers over 17 billion annually... in addition to rider fees.

    Of course.... back when the city first took (by court action) the privately owned subway system from the original ownership... the subway was profitable. Little by little, year by year, decade by decade government organizations become increasingly expense. By any measurement.... as a city service... the NYC Subway has excelled! Even at it's extreme cost.

    Eventually all government offices are reorganized, privatized, or simply collapse due to cost and from becoming outdated as a service. Such is the way government works. But in fairness... the same can be said about private enterprises as well.

    If there is anything impressive about CitiBike... or any of the similar community funded public bicycle transportation systems. Is that after more than 100 years of the safety bicycle... the bicycle remains popular, useful, practical, and as much fun as ever. Whether or not city funded cycling rental will succeed.... the bicycle is certainly here to stay.
    Last edited by Dave Cutter; 12-12-13 at 10:55 PM.

  18. #18
    Senior Member walrus1's Avatar
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    Citibike works great but sadly shows Bloomberg "Wait. Manhattan isn't the only Borough?" attitude. The southern most docking station is by the Barclay center. The northern most one is on Broadway between 61st and 62nd. There are none in Queens as of yet and to say nothing of the Bronx. But hey you can putt around Manhattan below 60th all you want.

    That being said I'm glad to see. I think it's showing non-cyclists and cars that bikes are a legitimate form of transportation. Also bikes here to stay. However, I'll be keeping my own bike and have no interest in paying 100 bucks a year for 45 minute trips. If you actually sit down, think about and do the math you realize buying your own bike makes more financial sense. But, I still think bike share is a very very good thing.

    @Dave Cutter Ah come now. The real problem with the MTA is Albany has final say in how it operates or is funded. The state legislature loves to take NYC tax money and give us jack squat in return. Plus most other nations if not all operate their public transit as a government service and not for profit entities. We would never expect a government service such as garbage collection or the fire department to pay for it's self. Why do we expect mass transit to?
    Last edited by walrus1; 12-12-13 at 11:31 PM.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Dave Cutter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by walrus1 View Post
    ...... We would never expect a government service such as garbage collection or the fire department to pay for it's self. Why do we expect mass transit to?
    We? You must be from the east coast. Actually.... most cities in America have for-profit garbage collection (NOT a city service). Many small towns, villages, and other communities like incorporated townships run volunteer fire departments... some even operate for fee (AKA profit) and they work fine.

    Your not catching what I am saying. You somehow in your mind have created a paradigm of how government works.... which isn't historically accurate. Nor does your predictions seem to be based on a dynamic future. Things will change! The only thing that has ever remained the same... is change.

    I posted the Subway report link... I could reference other publications as well but it might be better if you do your own research. Subway user-ship is down. automobile use... is down. Bicycle use has dropped from 43 million cyclist just 3-4 years ago... to 39 million today. I know of no research papers that explain why all transportation systems have reduced users. But I know we have an ageing (retiring) population mixed with an Internet connected workforce. Many people I know do at least a portion of their work from a home office.

    Traditional cities... no longer provide the value to the city dweller or society in general that they once provided. In my life I've seen populations swell and contract in various areas.... always based on value. When I was a child... people were still moving TO Detroit for it's many opportunities (AKA value). Detroit is now home to 713,777 people. More than a 60 percent drop down from a peak population of over 1.8 million at the 1950 census.

    There was a time... not that long ago... when NYC contributed greatly to the economic viability of the entire nation. Those days are currently behind us. It is far easier to manage growth than it is to manage periods of contraction. American cities have challenges ahead. What many people have referred to as sprawl for the last several years has actually turned out to be a migration of sorts.
    Last edited by Dave Cutter; 12-13-13 at 12:27 AM.

  20. #20
    Senior Member bbbean's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by buzzman View Post

    When you tried it what did you find that was more complicated in practice than how it sounded in principal?
    As a user: unpredictable availability, condition, and performance.
    As a volunteer: Maintaining a fleet of bikes people weren't taking care of, dealing with theft and vandalism, dealing with bikes that didn't get left were they should have, accidents, etc.

    Listening to the report on NPR yesterday, it sounded like the primary users were people who were committed to the the notion, but that casual users and average commuters weren't using the system as much as hoped. The focus of the report I heard was on low income and minority users, and it sounded like they weren't adopting the system for economic reasons.

    FWIW, I'd love to see the notion catch on. I'm just skeptical.

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    Of course.... back when the city first took (by court action) the privately owned subway system from the original ownership... the subway was profitable. Little by little, year by year, decade by decade government organizations become increasingly expense.
    Neither of the two privately operated subway systems taken over by NYC in 1940 were exactly profitable. The Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) declared bankruptcy in 1919. It never emerged from bankruptcy and was operated by receivers. The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT) also declared bankruptcy in 1919. It emerged from bankruptcy in 1923 as the reorganized Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Company (BMT). The BMT was profitable because it no longer was obligated to pay interest to the BRT's bondholders.

    New York City opened a third subway system in 1932. Both the IRT and BMT, as well as other companies, were offered the opportunity to operate this system. No private operator came forward, so the City operated what became the Independent Subway System (IND).

    BTW, New York City built and financed all its subway construction (with one small exception). Only their operation was private.

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    This press release gives some indication regarding NYC's bike share usage.

    http://a841-tfpweb.nyc.gov/dotpress/...w-biking-data/

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    First, addressing the actual topic of the NPR report.

    Membership in Hubway went from 3773 members/70 subsidized members to 7048 members/500 subsidized members.

    To provide access to the "unbanked" subsidized memberships are also available to community groups, they put down the deposits and work with their members/clients.
    Subsidized members get an hour for a trip, versus 30 minutes for other members.

    At the other end of the scale, there are also corporate memberships.

    On to the misconceptions. There is no city funding for operations. This is a sponsored service (New Balance is the main sponsor, but there are dozens more). Grant money covered start up costs. Revenue (now running over a million/year) covers a good chunk of operating costs. City support is mostly logistics, where to put stations, etc.

    There is a pilot program this *WINTER* (except during snow storm events) in Cambridge to see if the service should go year round. Today it is 25 degrees outside. Download the free Spotcycle app (covers many cities btw) and you can watch in real time bikes getting checked out and checked in.

    As far as competing with bike rentals? It doesn't.

    24 Hours with a hubway bike is $100.00.
    You can easily rent a carbon fiber road bike privately for $100.00/day.
    Otherwise you can rent a city hybrid bike privately for $35.00/day.

    The bikeshare services provide a *DIFFERENT* service than bike rentals do.

    -mr. bill
    Last edited by mr_bill; 12-13-13 at 11:25 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SBinNYC View Post
    BTW, New York City built and financed all its subway construction (with one small exception). Only their operation was private.
    IMO -- this is an excellent balance between public and private in mass transit. The public sector provides the capital expense, ie. tracks and rolling stock, and the ridership pays the operational expense.

    However, this is a side issue to the Bikeshare concept and comparisons to bicycle rental. Comparing these two is like comparing transit buses to tour and excursion buses. In the bus world we have decades of proof that transit and tour are different business and can coexist very well.

    I find it interesting that bikeshare opponents pick at the edges, not enough use by the poor, non-uniform coverage through the city, and so on. This is sour grapes thinking that supposes that anything whose benefits aren't enjoyed universally is somehow no good. In fact the reverse may be true, the very fact that folks complain about being left out may be the best proof of the concept.

    Like others, I see hurdles for bike share. Things like vandalism, maintenance, potential accident litigation, the risks of inexperienced riders in traffic (look at the moped injury rates in Caribbean tourist cities) etc. But only time will tell on those, but in the meantime, we do know that well planned and executed programs are a popular amenity in dense urban cores.
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  25. #25
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    Thank you SBinNYC for that link. It answered a lot of the concerns other posters have made and matches more accurately my observations of the Citibike and Hubway programs.

    And mr_bill for some useful facts about the operation of the programs.

    @DaveCutter- it sounds like you have issues with a publicly financed transportation infrastructure. Personally, I don't. I wouldn't want corporations owning our roads or having complete control of how I get around. Yeah, I have my complaints about the NYC subway system at times but head on over to Port Authority and hop on any one of a number of privately owned buses or head to the airport and take to the skies on any one of our privately run airlines- hang onto your luggage and I hope you're not more than 5'5 or good luck with your leg room. The emphasis on profit is not always to the advantage of the consumer.

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