2016: A Year of Important Bike Share Launches for Shared Mobility by Jessica Szeleg

2016 bike share launches

2016 was many things to many people. For the shared mobility community, it was a year of celebration with new bike share launches across North America putting more people on two wheels than ever before.

When movmi’s Shared Mobility City Index was first released in early 2016, many cities were positioned to launch bike share, but had yet to fully get off the ground. Technology glitches, helmet law legislation, station sightings. You name it, bike share has had to overcome it to get to final launch.

Once winter began to thaw though, bike share launches seemed to be rolling celebration throughout Canada and the United States in 2016.

2016 Bike Share Launches:

– Atlanta – June 9th Launch

Relay Bike Share

10 stations, 100 bikes

– Los Angeles – July 7th Launch

Metro Bike Share

65 stations, 1,000 bikes

– Vancouver – July 7th Launch

Mobi Bike Share

23 stations; 250 bikes

– Portland – July 19th Launch

Biketown Bike Share

100 statins, 1,000 bikes

For movmi’s SMCI, these launches were a big deal.

The SMCI is a tool to help evaluate whether a city is well positioned for shared mobility services based on 5 index measures deemed critical for success: Urban Density, Commute Patterns, Sustainability Plans, Shared Mobility Providers, and Parking Prices. Using a weighted scale, cities are evaluated based on population size, average median income, how well their sustainability and transportation plans address CO2 and congestion, which providers are already operating in the area, and how parking is priced in the core of a city’s downtown.

The presence of a few shared mobility services within a city is a clear indicator for new providers to consider launching services there. With less barriers to entry, a consumer based already comfortable with the shared economy, and hopefully city parking policies favorable to car share and TNC use, the presence of at least one or two other providers should be reassuring to providers.

Due to the importance of shared mobility services already existing within a city, the SMCI weights Shared Mobility the highest at 30 out of 100 available points. Out of the criteria considered for scoring, the presence of a bike share operator can earn a city the most points out of any other in the SMCI.

So why is bike share so highly regarded for the SMCI? Well, for 3 reasons:

1. The presence of a bike share operator within a city means shared mobility is a priority of the city.

Launching a bike share program comes with many of the same challenges launching a car share service does. Usually though, bike share programs throughout North America typically receive government funding or are fully funded by public dollars.

Supporting shared mobility in this way shows that a city recognizes access and equity in the transportation system needs to be met with a variety of tools; including the sharing of resources. This is good news to a new service provider as it means residents and policy makers are supportive of services to help people move around and usually are even putting public funds towards it.

2. Launching a bike share service shows a city is thinking about their curb space differently.

Bike share station locations need space.  Space on a side walk, space on a plaza, or space where a car could be parked. The process of sighting and permitting for bike share forces a city’s transportation or planning department to evaluate the type of use a city’s right-of-way has. Especially if a bike share station is located where on-street parking can be, city staff have had to assess the potential loss of on street parking revenue, loss of curbside access, or loss of a travel lane.

Decisions on how to use a city’s right-of-way are never easy. If a bike share service exists though, a new shared mobility service provider can almost always count on finding more supportive city staff or elected officials favorable to increasing the mix of uses on a street.

3. Bike share in a city means the sharing economy is growing.

Cities with rapidly growing populations can usually benefit from new transplants looking for shared mobility services or tools they were comfortable using in their last place of residence. If there isn’t a rapid influx of early adopters familiar with similar services in a city though, launching bike share can help normalize the sign up and process of getting around on a new, shared, transportation service. As more cities have car share, bike share, van share, TNCs, etc., a growing expectation and reliance on shared services is benefiting many urban areas across North America

When launching, quick adoption of a shared mobility service can make or break whether a service will last in the first few months. Paying attention to bike share membership numbers, station locations, and ongoing ridership can be an insightful predictor of how to launch to your potential new client base.

The launch of so many bike share services this year resulted in several new cities rising to the top of the 2017 SMCI. Most notably, Atlanta and Los Angeles made up quite a bit of ground in increasing their shared mobility services, including launching new bike share programs. Atlanta, ranked 20th in the 2016 SMCI, moved to #10 in Shared Mobility. Los Angeles, went from 24th ranking in 2016 to an impressive jump to #2 in the 2017 SMCI. With the adjustments in scoring to account for TNCs, public vanpool, other new services, and more bike share, huge potential is growing in cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta.

Shared Mobility and bike share alone are not the only factors that go into making a city attractive to launch or expand shared mobility services, but they’re definitely areas to pay attention to.  With plans this summer for San Francisco and Detroit to open their own public bike share program, new service providers would be wise to not only track where bike share stations are being located or if there are any polices being created to accommodate different right-of-way uses, but to also see if there’s a role for more players to join in the bubbling sharing economy.

2017 may not have as many record setting bike share launches as the past year, but the growth of shared mobility is definitely on the rise.

~ Jessica Szelag is a transportation and land use professional and a lover of cities. Over the past decade, her work has focused on transportation demand management projects and policies that encourage people to move, whether by car sharing, walking, biking, or riding transit. Jessica worked on the update to the 2017 SMCI report and currently can be found in Anchorage, Alaska focusing on bike and trail policies.

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