What Makes a Successful Bikeshare?


NYC’s Citibike launch

This year the BEVI internship has been focused on researching and defining transit hubs. As we explore electric vehicle infrastructure, we are expanding our research to other forms of alternative transportation such as bike share programs. Whether the bikes are electric or traditional, a bike share program is an exciting form of transit that could potentially be worked into electric vehicle infrastructure.

Bikeshare programs are growing in popularity; in addition to the well known Vélib’ (Paris), Capital Bikeshare (DC) and Citibike (NYC), programs been implemented in over 45 U.S. cities, and many more worldwide. Vélib and Capital Bikeshare government subsidized programs while Citibike is privately funded, and having trouble staying afloat. Citibike was launched in May 2013, despite logistical setbacks and many skeptics its first year was a success in terms of ridership. Bikeshare programs are often supported as a form of “last mile” transit that will connect people from their main form of transit to their final destination (e.g. subway to workplace). In the relationship between Citibike ridership and subway delays, it is clear that Citibike functions as a supplementary mode of transportation in New York’s complex but never complete transit system.

So Citibike has successfully become part of the transit system; but differently from Vélib’ and Capital Bikeshare, it is entirely privately funded. This is a surprising (and potentially destructive) choice for a program that has inserted itself into a public transit system that historically can only be sustained with subsidies.

Citibike   citibike31n-3-web

The success of a bikeshare hinges on many factors besides funding:

– A bike friendly city (bikepaths, but also cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians that understand traffic laws and etiquette, and are willing to share the road)

– A good balance of casual and annual riders (the proportionately high price for casual riding essentially subsidizes lower annual fees)

– Enough ridership in warm weather season to sustain the program through the lower ridership that inevitably occurs in the winter months

– A system for regulating the bikes that end up away from transit hubs and/or downhill (this creates a strong argument for electric bike shares)


Considering all of these factors the costs of designing and implementing a bikeshare system are still relatively low. Similar to adding a new bus line, a bikeshare can function within pre-existing transit infrastructure and is an efficient way of connecting people to more stations while satisfying more specific needs than a bus or metro ever could. In addition to all of this there are the obvious health benefits of biking, and lack of emissions.