Yesterday Tom Held of the Journal Sentinel reported that Milwaukee’s Mayor Tom Barrett thinks bike sharing might be a good fit for Milwaukee. Madison recently approved a B-cycle/Trek sponsored bike sharing system that will launch later this year. Washington, D.C. recently announced it is expanding it’s Capital Bike-share. New York City put out a major RFP to get bike share program in Gotham City. From New York to Portland and many places in between like Louisville and Des Moines, bike sharing is taking off in the United States.
Milwaukee has been looking at bike sharing for a while. It has even gone so far as to write grant applications for start-up funds and planning. Those applications were not successful, but it certainly shows a real interest. It may prove to be in Milwaukee’s interest to be a bit behind the bike share curve here. We can learn from other cities experiences and get something that works best at the lowest cost.
Personally I have been watching bike sharing systems since the Velo’v program in Lyon and the Vélib’ program in Paris proved to be such huge successes. In order to improve people’s understanding of bike sharing and the various systems out there, I have put together this overview. Since Nice Ride Minnesota has had a full year of operation for a year, I used much of their data as an example of how a bike sharing system is funded and operates. There are variations between systems, and every system must be tweaked for the City in which it operates. But Minneapolis is a pretty good comparison case if you are wondering how a system might work in Milwaukee or your community.
What is bike sharing? Bike sharing systems provide short-term bike rental through automated systems in cities and on college campuses. Bike sharing is as much pedestrian accelerator as it is a bike program. In the US about 49% of all trips are less than 3 miles, Bike sharing targets these trips. It offers people the opportunity to make trips that are too long to walk, but too short to drive, especially in urban centers where parking is a problem.
Users check out a bike with a credit card, membership card, and/or by cell phone at a docking station. There is often no fee for the first 30 minutes for members, but a deposit on the credit card ensures the bike is returned to a parking kiosk. Most systems have a membership fee for frequent users like people who drive to work downtown and need to run errands over lunch, but tourists and one time users can also use the system for a small fee.
Bike sharing offers many advantages to users and to the communities in which they are working. About 20 percent of bike share trips replace what would be a car trip. Those trips reduce congestion on our roads, free up parking spaces, and improve air quality. Bike sharing has been proven to get more people riding bicycles. Getting more people active improves the health of a community and will reduce healthcare costs in that community. Bike sharing also works well with transit, allowing people to more easily make the connection from their bus stop to their final destination.
What are the different types of bike sharing systems? There are over 240 bicycle sharing systems around the world and the number is growing all the time. With so many programs, there are many different business models, but really only four different operating models.
- 1st Generation: Systems with donated used bicycles that are all painted the same color and spread around a city for anyone to use. Madison had a red bike program for a while. Portland had yellow bikes and Amsterdam had white bikes. These programs which began in the late 60s and lasted into the early 90s proved to be ineffective because without a deposit, the bikes were quickly stolen or lost.
- 2nd Generation: These low tech systems typically use cash or coins to unlock the bicycles from the parking kiosk, kind of like the carts at the airport. The coin deposit and funky design of the bikes are meant to deter theft. I was able to use Copenhagen’s 2nd generation bike share system,City Bikes, when I was there. The bikes were pretty crummy and the stations were spread a bit too far apart. Most cities with these systems are now replacing them with 3rd generation bike share systems.
- 3rd Generation: This is the modern system that uses high-tech kiosks, solar power, wireless technology, Smart Cards and cell phone technology. The Velo’v program in Lyon and the Vélib’ program in Paris really proved the effectiveness of these systems. There are now more than a dozen such systems in operation or planned in the US. The most publicized systems are in major metro areas or college towns like Chicago, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Madison, Denver, and Boulder. But there are also systems in Des Moines, Nashville, Louisville and San Antonio.
- 4th Generation: Systems like SoBi or Social Bikes in New York City and WeBike in
Washington, D.C. are the first hi-tech systems that do not require expensive kiosks. All that is needed is some bikes, good U-locks and smart phones. They rely on GPS, web, social networking, and SMS text messaging technologies. These systems seem to have a lot of potential, especially for university campuses and small cities, but have yet to prove themselves. This is definitely something to watch
Case Study: Nice Ride Minnesota has been in operation for over a year. Located in the snowy and cold midwest market about the same size as the Milwaukee metro area, it serves as a good case study. The program in Minneapolis has been universally viewed as a success. As such, there is a lot of interest in expanding the program to a wider area including St. Paul. Below I review the start-up program that they call Phase 1.
Nice Ride Minnesota in Minneapolis: Phase 1
Bike/Kiosk System: Bixi
Managed by: Nice Ride Minnesota, a registered 501c3 non-profit organization.
Number of Stations: 65
Number of Bikes: 700
Cost: $3 million start-up and $45,000 all-in costs per kiosk after one year
Annual Operating Cost: operating costs during the operating season in 2010 were $302,176
Business Plan: Nice Ride Minnesota’s business plan is to pay for operations and accumulate reserves for future equipment replacements using revenue from subscription sales and fees and station sponsorship. Based on year 1 experience the model appears to be sound.
Funding Sources: The $3 million capital cost for Phase 1 (2010) implementation was obtained through a successful public-private partnership that included:
- $1.75 million one-time contribution from the Federal Governmentʼs Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Project
- (NTP) project (administered locally by Transit for Livable Communities and Bike Walk Twin Cities), $1 million from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, funded through the historic tobacco litigation settlement, and
- $250,000 from the City of Minneapolis Convention Center Fund.
Fees: The cost to use the Nice Ride system is a combination of subscription price, plus trip fees.
You pay: Subscription Price + Trip Fees
|24 hr *||$5.00||
|0-30 min||No fee|
|30 day||$30.00||up to 60 min||$1.50|
|1 yr||$60.00||up to 90 min||$4.50|
|Student||$50.00||Each additional half hour||+$6.00|
Subscriptions and fees are subject to 7.775% sales tax.
- A trip starts when you take a bike and ends when you return it to any station.
- No trip fee for the first 30 minutes of every trip. Trips lasting more than 30 minutes will incur trip fees. Note: trip fees can add up fast, see chart below
- To avoid trip fees, simply return your bike to a station within 30 minutes, and check out another one.
- Take as many trips as you want during your subscription.
- * 24 hr subscriptions require a $50 deposit, for more information see the Subscriptions page.
Winter Season: Closed from December through March. Bike share equipment is expensive, and road salt is very damaging. The equipment is removed from the street during the winter months when road salt is present in order to protect the capital investment and comply with the terms of equipment warranties. In addition, the location permits issued by the City stipulate that the equipment cannot be on sidewalks and streets during the winter so as not to impede snow removal. The Twin Cities has as large a group of winter cyclists as any cold weather city, but they make up a very small fraction of the number of people who ride in the summer months and it is unlikely there would be see enough usage to cover operating costs, and certainly not the capital replacement cost of equipment.
Rebalancing: During the first season, rebalancing work was done with 1 full size pickup truck and trailer and 2 smaller electric vehicles. The rebalancing vehicles were on the street every day of the week from 6am to 1am. Generally this worked well but there were times when stations become completely full or empty. Special events can present a challenge for rebalancing system.
Total trips: 100,817 (20% of these replace a car trip according to the survey below).
1 year subscriptions sold: 1,295
30-day subscriptions sold: 89
Casual (24hr) subscriptions sold: 29,077
Bikes lost or stolen: 1
Incidents of vandalism > $100: 3
No reports of serious injury.
1 report of an accident involving a car, the front wheel was damaged, but the rider was not injured.
A survey of 1yr and 30 day subscribers went out to approximately 1300 people of which about 680 responded. Some of the highlights from survey responses are:
- 77 % of respondents reported they already own bikes
- 66% said the amount of biking they did increased after subscribing to Nice Ride.
- 89% reported their primary use of Nice Ride is for transportation, not recreational riding.
Planned Phase 2 Expansion of Nice Ride Minnesota
Number of Stations: 130
Number of Bikes: 1,400
Cost: $5.85 million
Funding: Nice Ride Minnesota is currently seeking funding from a combination of public and private sources for the Phase 2 expansion. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota spurred the fund-raising efforts by pledging up to $1.5 million towards Phase 2 (contingent on obtaining public funding proportionate to the successful Phase 1 public/private partnership).