Bike sharing has its inception in the 1960s but was hampered in its growth by problems related to not being able to gain real-time information about the bicycle network, track the bikes and properly secure them. In the present, these difficulties have been overcome by technology. Bicycle sharing networks can now be monitored in real-time, individual bicycles can be electronically tracked and can even be remotely secured.
The 2000s have seen a boom in bike sharing due to its relatively low costs compared to other transportation infrastructure, a push towards "green" cities, and through the support of regional and municipal governments and academic institutions. In 2004, only 11 cities had embraced bike sharing. That number has since mushroomed with more than 1,000 public bicycle rental schemes of various kinds running in 50 countries across five continents at this writing (2017). In the United States, of its large urban areas, only Detroit and St. Louis lack bike sharing services.
In addition to public and mixed public and private bike sharing programs, there has been an uptick in private businesses, including several start-ups, entering the arena. Bike sharing is especially widespread in Asia and in China in particular, where a single bike sharing system can encompass as many as 200,000 bicycles.
Another major differentiator among bike sharing providers is whether the service offered employs designated bicycle kiosks (also known as docks) or is a dockless bike sharing network. Less significant differentiators are the models of bike used, and the payment methods a service allows.
Bike Sharing Service Business Models
Private bike sharing services earn profits through ...
- Rental fees on a per ride basis and subscription
- Required security deposits - funds which can be mined for interest or otherwise invested to the benefit of the company. This represents a lucrative and possibly huge pool of income for bike sharing companies. China's Mobike with reportedly 100 million registered users as of June 2018, given their deposit policy, will have collected over $4 billion USD.
- Data mining and data sales: Users and usage patterns can be easily tracked and documented and present marketable data for retail businesses, restaurants, taxi services, and other concerns as well as for local government for urban planning and infrastructure usage
- Advertising - Bike sharing companies can place ads on bicycle chassis or kiosks and in applications used to locate and rent bikes
Bike Sharing Advantages
- Benefits to health and sense of well-being
- Expansion of personal mobility
- Time management and time savings advantages
- Financial savings (depending on costs)
- Freedom from the costs, upkeep, and responsibilities of bicycle ownership
- Helps facilitate and promote density (from a YIMBY perspective)
- Reduced car traffic and congestion
- Reduced air and noise pollution
- Extends existing transit networks and their reach
- Can expand the visibility and social acceptability of cycling in general (a low impact form of transportation)
- Encourages fitness
- Attractive to commuters and tourists alike
- Possible increases in social cohesiveness
Note that automobile-centric communities experience issues around the accessibility and affordability of transportation, pollution and other environmental impacts, sustainable growth, and social cohesion.
Issues Associated with Bike Sharing
- Underutilization of services that threatens viability in some places
- Rigid regulations that lower the convenience of using the service or raise the costs to implement or maintain it
- Lack of accessibility/concerns around inclusivity for residents who may be lower income, older, living with disabilities and/or lack a smartphone, are unbanked, may not have access to credit cards or online payment methods or not be tech-savvy
- Concerns around tracking, privacy and the use/sale of user data
- Safety concerns related to biking, often paired with a lack of cycling infrastructure in the area in which the bike sharing service is being implemented
- Concerns specific to dockless bike sharing around the hazards and visual clutter possibly presented by bikes that may be left anywhere or illegally parked in public space
- Friction around interactions with pedestrians and motorists
- Struggles over ceding space for kiosk-based bike sharing parking
North American Bikeshare Association
The Global Bike Sharing Boom - Why Cities Love A Bike Sharing Scheme - The Conversation
Uber for Bikes: How Dockless Cycles Flooded China and Are Moving Overseas - The Guardian - 22 March 2017
Bike Sharing Schemes May Seem Like A Waste of Space But Economics Make Sense - The Conversation - 18 September 2017
Bike Sharing Rivalry Crowds Beijing's Sidewalks - The Denver Post - 9 April 2017
All 119 Bike Sharing Systems, Ranked by Size - Greater Greater Washington 26 January 2017