BikeShare: Odd Arguments In Favor Of Current Scheme

Background Reading


Ron Burke wrote (or probably had written for him) a piece refuting some of the assertions made by Jon Hilkevitch this past week:

Active Transportation Alliance

Active Transportation Alliance

The hundreds of thousands of happy bike share members in the United States and around the world might be surprised to learn how expensive and unpopular the bike-sharing program will be in Chicago, according to the story in today’s Chicago Tribune, “City’s new bike share program puts the pedal to overtime fees.”

The story questions whether businessmen will ride in suits to “save a couple of dollars on a taxi cab and possibly save a tree from pollution.” A lawyer is quoted saying nobody will sign up for bike share in Chicago. I suspect the 24,000 members of DC’s Capital Bike Share would disagree, and no doubt many ride in suits.

The Tribune rightly calls attention to modest over-time fees that kick in when bikes are checked out beyond 30 minutes, but it fails to mention that nearly all trips are under 30 minutes in bike share systems. 97 percent, for example, are under 30 minutes in DC.

The story raises fears about paying $1,200 for lost or stolen bikes (that’s how much the bikes cost), but fails to mention this is also rare. In 2 years, 15 bikes have been lost or stolen from Capital Bike Share.

Bike share members typically save hundreds of dollars each year on transportation, even if they occasionally ride longer than 30 minutes and pay overtime fees. You’re not paying for cabs, transit fare, parking, etc. The $75 annual fee is a bargain, and I can’t wait to have the bike share option for getting around Chicago.

The statistic on trips made under 30 minutes is probably not accurate. What the data would show is how many people got “dinged” for going over the limit of 30minutes in DC. But that does not mean that trips are generally of this length. Rather it says that only 3% of the users went over the limit before being able to grab a new bike. What you really need to know is what percentage of users grabbed a new bike within minutes of docking one. And further how many times in a row did they exhibit this behavior.

As for the price of the bike $1200 is fairly steep for a person whose personal bike probably costs under $300. And since these bikes are fairly clunky it would be hard to justify in ones mind why they are so expensive. But whether or not one rarely has to pay for a bike a single event would be financially catastrophic for some riders. Rarely are people shot while riding their bikes through sketchy neighborhoods. But when one is shot the statistical probabilities make little difference in minimizing the pain you feel.

Submitted by Gretchen Willenberg (not verified) on Thu, 05/30/2013 – 2:25pm.

I just wish I had a better sense that realities and benefits were compared for the program. As it stands, I’m not sure the Divvy program understands its potentially biggest users and fans; the residents of Chicago, especially all of us that already use public transportation. Not the cab crowd…

Square miles of DC: 68
Square miles of Chicago: 224

Time Citi bike NYC annual members have per ride: 45 minutes (30 minutes to non-members).
Time for members and non-members in Chicago: 30

Since the initial stations seem focused on tourist areas, and I can’t guarantee my rides are going to be 29.59 minutes every day, I might as well buy a cheap commute bike.

Hope it succeeds.

I like the use of land area as a way of measuring the relative needs of riders who are attempting to use these bikes for commutes. Chicago is relatively large compared to many cities of a similar population size. It is not for instance as huge as some suburban counties but riding from one end to the Loop ought to be the measure of how long a person should be able to use the bike.

Square Miles Not a Good Comparison

Submitted by Ridden in Both Cities (not verified) on Thu, 05/30/2013 – 3:39pm.

Comparing the “size” of DC and Chicago isn’t really a good comparison. Firstly, Capital Bikeshare goes BEYOND the City limits of the District. I saw quite a few in Arlington Virginia on my recent trip. Secondly, DIVVY isn’t covering all of Chicago. In fact, its not covering very much of Chicago at all. For example, right now NO stations are scheduled to go in out along the Blue Line running along the Kennedy (well past Logan Square). Yet many downtown commuters use the Blue Line and would likely be good candidates for a DIVVY system.

Secondly, the size of the City is not relevant. These are big honking heavy bicycles. They were never intended, for example, as a substitute for my 45 minute 11 mile commute. They would be painful and slow for anything over a couple of miles. They are “the last mile” or “last two mile” option. And that’s easy to do in well under 30 minutes. They are not intended to focus on the hard core commuter who goes from home to work on a bicycle. They are intended for the guy that lives, for example, in the Northwest side and works in River North. He takes DIVVY to Grand (I believe that Divvy will go in there) gets off and takes Divvy the 1.5 miles or so to a Divvy stand near his office. That’s perfect.

I am not signing up now because, well, I am a “hard core” commuter who goes the whole way on my bicycle and because DIvvy doesn’t go where I need it to go (at least not yet).

My Reactions To These Two Respondents

Gretchen has the most sensible view of the needs of users of this system. Over time “casual users” might indeed grow in numbers but for the present it will be experienced riders who want to be able to leave their bikes at home who will populate the roadways on these bikes. And yes the size of the city in square miles makes a difference. Ultimately you need to plan for the folks living on the edge of the city to have as good a chance as anyone else to get to work without having to change bikes. You might even have a staggered time limit so that those living further out get a full hour to ride into the Loop while those a few miles out get only 30 minutes.

As for the notion that folks who hop off the train are likely to use these bikes, I doubt that very much. However suburbanites who take the trains into the city and plan to visit Wrigley Field or Cellular Field or United Center or McCormick Place are exactly the kinds of folks for whom these bikes make the most sense. Overall if this system is to survive it will have to do so on the strength of its one-day users.

Jon Hilkevitch Did Us A Favor

It should be readily admitted and discussed that there have been notable failures of the BikeShare concept in places like Australia, France and even in San Francisco. What is not being discussed at great length is why this is happening. I have included some articles on this site which delve at length into several of these failures. But the concept is not always well received.

Active Transportation Alliance is guilty of the “happy talk” syndrome where Urban Cycling is concerned. Their motivation is to be as positive as possible to offer the greatest chance that change can take root and become part of the urban landscape. But eventually you are going to have some missteps that need to be addressed ahead of the curve. This may be one of those times.