Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Right Price, Too Much or Too Little?

On September 13, 2009, Dublinbikes began with an annual subscription of £10 (about $16). In a little over a month, 11,500 Dubliners signed up for annual subscriptions. Expecting fewer than half this number of subscribers in a year, the program ran out of RFID cards trying to satisfy the demand. No program anywhere has had that many requests in such a short period of time, according to The Irish Times. In a few weeks, 60,000 trips have been taken on only 450 bikes.

In the bike-sharing world, what should be the cost of an annual subscription? These costs are as varied as the programs are numerous. What is the right price for the subscription? Admittedly the right price has to contribute to the sustainability of the system. Is it better to have a price that automatically assures the needed level of revenue per bike or per system? In other words make that level by volume. “Elasticity of Demand” is what economists use to start to determine a price. How elastic is the demand for bike-sharing?


On May 12, 2009, Bixi began with an annual subscription of $78 CDN (about $73). In a little over 5 months of service, 10,500 Montréalers have signed up for annual subscriptions. This system is very successful with a range of between 7,000 and 12,000 daily usages of the 4,100 bikes, according to Radio Canada. According to the Bixi website, the 1,000,000th trip was celebrated this week.


The Bixi program with almost 10 times more bikes than Dublinbikes, has been in service five times longer, and is situated in a city with three times as many people, only has about the same amount of annual subscribers as Dublin.

In the more established bike-sharing cities, the annual subscription prices are no more than around $40 as in Paris; Barcelona; and Washington, DC. Lyon, France’s annual fee is less, at around $23. These European cities have annual subscription rates close to 10% of their entire city population. They experience daily ridership levels of 5 to 10 trips per bike per day. The small Washington, DC program with 120 bikes has more than 10 times as many subscribers as it has bikes. Could this be because of price?

Price is a major motivator to join and use bike-sharing programs. The European experience with pricing should be thought of strongly as a new crop of bike-sharing programs begin in Spring 2010. What is the magic price to maximize annual subscriptions to make a large user base without needing a subsidy? Forty dollars seems to be close to the right amount for a large annual user base. Maybe $39.95 would be catchier!

Russell Meddin

images: bixi:calderon on flickr Dublinbikes: bikeradar
statitics: Vélib', Vélo'V, Bicing, SmartBike DC

Monday, October 26, 2009

National Park Service's "Employer Bike Fleet"

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the National Park Service’s (NPS) Headquarters here in Washington, D.C. Staff was kind to discuss their efforts at improving cycling at our National Parks and show off their organization’s bike fleet for NPS employees. As the terminology is amorphous at this time, I’m using the term “employer bike fleet” to represent a service only available to the staff of an organization, similar to an organization's car fleet. While employer bike fleets can use automated bike rental systems, the concept of bike-sharing is different as it's open to the public for short transit trips.

Earlier this year, Humana donated three automated rental stations to the NPS which they’ve used to connect three of their employment sites in and around downtown D.C. While their employer bike fleet is only for staff, the NPS expressed interest in growing the concept of automated bike rental for visitors throughout the National Park system as well as bike-sharing on the National Mall. What better way to see the park than to be closer to nature and let your eyes frame the scenery, rather than the car’s window frame the scenery for you.

Here is a video with Jason Martz, Bike Program Coordinator for the National Mall, showing how staff uses its B-cycle automated rental system.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Watching the Shift

Many cities around the world have been transformed by bike-sharing programs; any resident of Paris, Barcelona, Lyon, etc. could tell you that. Bike-sharing in some cases has led to a doubling of the number of trips by bike, increased use of private bikes, and improved the bicycle’s public relations from that of a toy to that of a sensible tool for transport. Data is necessary to support the costs and benefits of a bike-sharing program, but what does this look like on the street and in the minds of the city’s inhabitants as the bicycle goes from toy to tool?

With the Washington, D.C. region creating an expanded program, I plan to write about the physical and mental shift in the urban core of the D.C. region that’s going through a paradigm changing moment in time towards what will likely lead to more cycling for everyday purposes. What will the urban core of the D.C. region experience as our bike-sharing program expands from 120 bikes to that of a legitimately sized system? Will the program be well used? Will private cycling increase as it has in other cities with bike-sharing programs? Will the public image of the bicycle improve? What spin-offs, both positive and negative, will occur during this period?

Stay tuned, bike-sharers...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hangzhou on the go and Wuhan can!

Electric bicycle mover in Hangzhou

Around the bike-sharing world, Hangzhou, China now has 40,000 public use bicycles on the streets in 1,600 stations. The municipal government, as reported in The Bike-sharing Blog plans to add another 10,000 bikes and 400 stations by the end of 2009. According to China’s Nan Fang Daily, in a rush to greet the China’s National Day Holiday of October 1st, the last weeks of September saw 7,000 more bikes and 200 more stations installed throughout this city of nearly 2.65M inhabitants. Hangzhou, the provincial capital of Zheijang, is around 200 km southwest of Shanghai. Hangzhou Public Bicycle Development Company, which launched the program in April 2008, is government owned and will sell advertising space on the bicycles and stations to support the system.

Wuhan, China celebrated the National Day holiday with 21,000 bike-sharing bicycles in 740 stations on its streets. In operation since the beginning of this year, Wuhan Public Bikes had issued over 150,000 subscriber cards by the end of July this summer, reports the Xinhua News Agency. Although the system’s web map does not give real time counts for the number of bikes in each stations, it does give pictures of the stations so you can find them on the street. Wuhan, around 800 km west of Shanghai, is a major transportation hub on the Yangtze River.

China is embracing bike-sharing even though it has surpassed the United States as the world’s largest automobile market. Leaders in Chinese urban centers are counting on bike-sharing to help reduce the newfound automobile congestion. Currently, Shanghai is developing a bike-share system to service the May 2010 World’s Fair Expo Shanghai-Better City Better Life.

images: Hangzhou Public Bikes, Wuhan Public Bikes

Russell Meddin

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What is Zot?

North America's second high-tech (3rd generation) university bike-sharing program will be launching at the University of California - Irvine on October 9. Called ZotWheels, this bike-sharing service will offer 25 bikes at four stations on campus. An annual membership fee of $40 will allow students to check out a bike for up to 3 hours using an RFID card.

The program's name is unique, as all bike-sharing programs' names are, but what is a "Zot"? Lynn Harris of the University's Parking and Transportation Services Department, which is offering the bike transit service, reports, "The University opened in 1965 and the BC comic strip was popular at that time. There was an anteater in the strip that would make the 'zot' sound every time it ate an ant. The student body voted the anteater in as mascot, and hence the 'Zot' became linked with us."

The bike-sharing system, called Ecotrip, was created by a partnership of Collegiate Bicycle Company and Central Specialties, Ltd. with input from U.C. - Irvine.

It's great to see a second university taking the bold step to launch a 3rd generation bike-sharing service. U.C. Irvine is taking a small step here with four stations, but already has plans to expand. I'm sure all anteaters are proud.

Update: Here's a video from KABC-TV from Los Angeles.

image credit: University of California - Irvine