Bike Share Programs

Bike-share programs have been getting some real media attention recently, and several cities like Paris and Barcelona have operated large-scale programs since 2007, with many others either launching or considering programs of their own. NY Bikeshare has a nicely-detailed list of current bikeshare programs.

It’s an interesting concept: there are ‘stations’ scattered throughout the city, where riders can use their credit card to access a bike and are charged by the hour as they use the bike. When they’re done, they find the station closest to their destination and leave the bike there. Bike share is touted as a way to promote cycling, cut down on city-center car traffic, and provide shorter-range transport  that can be used in conjunction with other forms of public transport. Bike sharing has become quite popular, but there are some significant hurdles like theft, vandalism, and management disputes.

Paris is a good case study in both the success and setbacks of bike sharing. Its Velib program is huge, with some 20,000 bikes and 1,450 bike terminals throughout the city. The program is funded through a partnership between the city of Paris and JCDacaux, an outdoor-advertising company. JCDacaux installs and services the bikes and terminals in return for 1,600 advertising spaces in the city. The city keeps the proceeds generated by user fees.

This seems like a good arrangement: JCDecaux gets advertising space, the city gets a sizeable chunk of money, and the people of Paris get a convenient and practical way to get around. Recently though, there’s been claims of problems. In a popular BBC article, JCDecaux claims that rampant theft and vandalism have rendered the plan unsustainable. This has been disputed however, with the NYC Streetsblog saying that the troubles are vastly overstated and JCDecaux is crying poverty to negotiate a better deal with the city. I guess time will tell whether the program will succeed, but it seems likely that bike sharing in Paris will continue to be popular, whether or not the current model of operations is viable.

In the meantime, Barcelona’s program has been going strong, with no reports of widespread problems. Treehugger reports that since the bike sharing scheme was introduced, overall bicycle use has increased and the city has been creating more infrastructure to accomodate cyclists. Granted, the increase in overall cycling isn’t due solely to bike-sharing, but it’s a great way to make cycling more visible and accessible.

Philadelphia may soon join the ranks of cities with bike-sharing too. Bike Share Philadelphia has been advocating the cause since 2007. They say that a feasability study due to be released February 15th has determined bike share to be viable. There’s no word on how a possible system will be structured, but it’s possible that companies like Alta Bicycle Share or MetroBike could be tapped to help with planning.

Right now, it’s still up in the air, but we’ll see if the idea takes off. If you’re in favor of bike sharing in Philly, Bike Share Philadelphia has a form letter that they will email to Mayor Nutter in your name.