Bike-Share Represents An ‘Exposure Problem’

Background Reading



Photo Montreal’s bike-sharing system, considered one of the most innovative, ended up costing the city $25 million. Credit Graham Hughes for The New York Times

Like it or not Bike-Share exposes the flanks of the Urban Cycling Movement. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the degree to which it is not wholeheartedly embraced makes it painfully clear that bicycles do not provide ‘the answer‘ to the pressing questions of livable cities.

Bike-Share is the answer to so many questions:

  • how can I afford a bike?
  • what will it cost me to keep a bike maintained?
  • what’s the best bike for city riding?
  • where can I find a good bike parking spot at work?
  • what kinds of safety features (e.g. lights and reflectors) will I need to be safe
  • what size bike will fit me?
  • what plans do I have to make to get my bike onto the train or bus for the first leg of my journey to work?

So when every single Bike-Share system in cities like Montreal, Chicago and New Yorkcomes up short‘ it makes you wonder. We are either doing something wrong or the product we are peddling needs better marketing.

All of these cities have experienced an unsustainable cash shortage to maintain operations. All of these cities have a rather antiquated system for conducting their load-balancing. This is evidenced by the complaints of the few users they have that stations are often too full to park a bike or too empty to satisfy the number of customers at a given train or bus terminal.

Most importantly the ‘dyed in the wool‘ activists are generally unimpressed with these bikes. They think them unsuitable for themselves and eschew them in favor of riding their private bicycles and thus requiring on-street parking rack areas which are often poorly designed.

Clearly no amount of ‘spin‘ from the activists is going to ‘fix this problem‘. If the general public cannot or will not use these bikes there are not enough actual bicycle commuters to ‘fill the gap‘. And certainly with every newspaper article which examines the death of yet another cyclist riding in bike lanes declared as a ‘safe habitat for bicycles‘ there is a negative reaction to the idea of ever taking up a Bike-Share bike for the purposes of touring the city.

‘Houston we have a problem!’

Urban Cycling Movement members are going to have to do some soul-searching. Having Bike-Share system fail is akin offering ice cold lemonade drinks at a killer price to pedestrians walking on white hot pavement during a heat wave and being unable to make a profit.

So are you offering the wrong kind of refreshment or is it not hot enough to warrant the prices you are asking?