The Bikesharing Trend: Past, Present and Future Overview of Bike Shared Mobility

While worldwide population is on the rise, smart city planners know that city centres are in need of a greener, lighter mode of transport that is both easy to access and pollution-free – enter, the bikesharing trend. Bikesharing is a smart solution to rising populations and dense city centres with too much pollution and congestion, providing an eco-friendly opportunity for citizens to quickly get from point A to B. Bikeshare programs have been steadily increasing globally, particularly in large cities, but the industry has gone through many different phases in its history.

Interested in the bikesharing trend, where bikeshare is going in the future, and where it has been thus far? Read on for our comprehensive overview on the past, present, and future of bikeshare programs. 

If you missed it, read our similar carsharing trend post here.

The Bikesharing Trend: Past, Present and Future Overview

The History of BIkesharing

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While bikeshare programs might seem like a relatively modern trend due to their rise in popularity and availability in the most recent years, bikesharing has actually been around for much longer than you might think.

The earliest form of bikesharing dates back to the 1960s in the Netherlands. Witte Fietsenplan, founded by Luud Schimmelpennink (also known as the father of bikeshare) started the program when he helped paint set of white bicycles in Amsterdam and decided to leave them out in public for the enjoyment of everyone. A political statement and act of generosity rather than a business at this time, the set of white bicycles in Amsterdam made a statement against pollution and the growing number of vehicles and congestion in the city.

Unfortunately, being unregulated, most of these initial shared bikes were stolen or vandalized; later, the father of bike share attempted to revise the idea with a formal city program, but the plan was rejected by the city administration.

It wasn’t until 20 years later that the initial concept of bikesharing was revived when two designers in Copenhagen began organizing a new bikeshare offering called Copenhagen City Bikes. With its own problems at its outside including theft and funding issues, the program with clunky white bikes eventually managed to get secured public funding and private funding, allowing it to take off. The program used fixed docks where riders enter their deposit (rides themselves were free) and unlocked and parked bikes. Deposits would be returned at the end of the ride. Though Copenhagen became quite friendly with these City Bikes, the city ended the program in 2012, looking for an updated system.

In 1998, Vélo a la Carte Bikeshare launched in Rennes, France, and was also offered to citizens for free with fixed docks in various locations with magnetic card readers so that riders could no longer borrow bikes anonymously. The program was strategically funded and maintained by Clear Channel (where ad space was created on the bikes themselves) and built in cooperation with the cities’ infrastructure. The city also provided outdoor signage to Clear Channel in exchange for them maintaining the bikes and dock stations. Smartly, the bike stations were built near bus interchanges and at park-and-ride facilities, answering the consumer’s natural demand to integrate bikesharing as a part of their journey and providing “the last mile” solution.

Present Situation for Bikesharing

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As you are well aware, bikesharing has taken off in the past five years. Now in 2018, most large cities have at least one bikeshare offering program, often partnered in collaboration with the city and telecommunication companies or others (as seen above with Velo and Clear Channel) to create new advertising channels.

In more recent years, dockless bikesharing became a popular trend, allowing the consumer to drop the bike anywhere within the home zone and be found by the next user with GPS on their smartphone app. However, the dockless bikeshare programs has been deemed “deeply flawed” with cities like Dallas, Texas who found their 18,000 bikes lost nearly overnight and found in a recycling centre. In Washington, D.C., 96% of the dockless pedal bikes disappeared, apparently as a result of MoBike and ofo pulling out of the US.

Similarly, the rapid growth of bikesharing in China quickly outgrew demand, leading to over 10,000 bikeshare bicycles being abandoned at “bicycle graveyard” in early 2018. Sadly, massive piles of impounded, abandoned, or broken bikeshare bicycles have become a familiar in many of China’s big cities. While there were once more than 40 bikeshare programs in China, only the most successful bikeshare companies have managed to pull through the mass graveyard situation, particularly Mobike, Ofo, and HelloBike, who rank among the country’s most successful startups. Recently ofo has increased rates and there has been rumors that they may be getting acquired by bikeshare company, Didi.

Despite the failures of many dockless bikeshare programs, cities still continue to launch the dockless business model in recent months with technology improvements to help guard against the failures already presented first-hand. US cities like Orlando, Minneapolis, and St. Paul have opted for dockless bikeshare programs, leveraging the cost savings of a station-free program (bikeshare parking stations can run up to $50,000).

These two companies (Mobike and ofo) have recently pulled out of Europe due to vandalism issues, making way for another giant to take their place. It was recently announced that Uber, who acquired Jump Bikes in April of 2018, will move into the European market, starting in Berlin before expanding to other countries in the continent. Vélib’ is Paris’ large bikeshare program and is the largest bikeshare outside of China. This bikeshare program, which now has 20,000 bikes and more than 1,200 stations, made its debut in July of 2007 and was backed by the mayor of Paris. As of 2011, its daily ridership was roughly 86,000 people, and that number has only grown since.

As of May, 2018, Coast Bike’s bikesharing program in St. Petersburg, Florida has been running for a year, and a review shows that residents are using them to commute: 55% of trips taken are by users who live in the city of St. Petersburg, says Coast, and a whopping 79% of trips taken are by residents of Florida.

New features and technologies currently improving the bikeshare industry include:

  • Lock-to features: These features are now being implemented as a response to the dockless bikeshare graveyards as in China, which require riders to lock their bikes to a post before taking off. This allows the “dockless” opportunity in bikeshare to continue while mitigating the risk for theft or vandalism.
  • Electric bikes and charging stations: This year we have started to see a rise in electric bikeshare programs such as BYKKO in Newcastle, which offers 100 electric bikes and 19 charging stations for tourists and commuters.
  • Technologies to power electric bikesharing: Superpedestrian recently raised 16.5 Million from investors to launch technologies to power electric bikesharing programs. These technologies include sensors, embedded motor controllers, and software to undergo onboard diagnostics to identify maintenance problems and alert the fleet operator of needed repairs.

If you missed our 2018 update on the bikesharing industry, take a look at it here. Interested in learning about how to start your own bikeshare program? We’ve covered that too.

THe Bikesharing trend: what’s next?

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What we have seen in the history of bikesharing as well as the current offering gives us a lot of optimistic ideas of what might be next. We believe the future of bikesharing will continue to offer convenient and eco-friendly opportunities for citizens to move around their cities, as well as offering a first and last mile opportunity to integrate with other shared mobility options. Based on what we’ve seen, we believe the future of bikesharing might consist of:

  • Bikeshare companies expand with e-scooters: E-scooters offer the consumer a different way to get around the city that involves less physical activity, while remaining quick and eco-friendly. We have already seen some bikeshare programs incorporating e-scooters into their business model, and we expect to see more of this in the coming years. With Lyft having joined the e-scooter trend, we feel this is a realistic expectation.
  • Bikeshares with e-bike charging stations: Electric bikes integrated into bikeshare programs have been gaining popularity in the latest times, and many expect that electric bikes with e-bike charging stations strategically placed around cities will be the collective future of bikesharing. Electric bikes have the benefit of requiring less physical exertion from the rider and therefore provide a mode of transportation between larger distances; the challenge to overcome will be the charging times required for the bikes and integrating this information on a smartphone app. Uber’s JUMP electric bikeshare program will be testing out this concept in a trial in California.
  • Combination of dockless and station-based: A recent change in Twin Cities’ bikeshare program, Nice Ride, may represent a possible option for the future of bikesharing that finds a happy medium between dockless and station-based bikeshare. This hub-based dockless bikeshare program doesn’t exactly allow the user to drop the bikes just anywhere, but instead having dedicated “parking hubs” located around the city and conveniently marked. The company claims this allows for the convenience of dockless bikeshare while allowing for higher quality bikes.

Bikesharing is definitely going to be a part of our urban landscape and mobility options for some time, and we look forward to see how this eco-friendly shared mobility option develops in the near future. Interested in learning more about starting a bikeshare program of your own? Contact us here.

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