Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Need for Innovation

Bike-share has successfully made its way into the transport landscape around much of the world. Now that nearly 1,000 systems have been established globally, the proof of concept was the easy part and the hard part is just beginning – broadening the service to people who don’t ride a bike and who are a majority of the population.

Bike-share competes against other modes of transport that can be more convenient and easy, like the private automobile, taxis, and ride-hailing services. A cold bike seat is a long way from the heated seat of some cars, so bike-share also must become more convenient and easy in order to attract new and keep existing customers. Innovation is key and it’s impressive to see what some visionary bike-share services, operators, and vendors are doing towards this goal.

JCDecaux, operator of Paris’s Vélib’, is showing two great examples of innovation. They’re experimenting with both a pedelec (pedal electric) system, called e-vls, and bikes with automatic gear change. The pedelec bikes likely will require that one lease a specially designed battery to insert into the bike (as shown below). According to JCDecaux the batteries can cover up to 10 km (6 mi) at a maximum speed of 25 km/h (16 mph). On top of that, e-vls thankfully won't increase the bike weight for those that aren't using the pedelec feature.

Pedelec bike-share bikes aren’t the evolution of bike-sharing, but rather a complementary service for those wanting a little extra assistance to get to their workplace, home, event, etc. without sweating or tiring themselves. It will surely bring new demographics of people into bike-share that wouldn’t have considered using it previously as well as make the bikes more useful to existing customers. A complementary pedelec bike-share feature will help shorten the distance between origin and destination that for some would otherwise be too far, too hilly, or too strenuous to do it without electric assistance. Pedelecs are one more reason now to take bike-share and one less reason to not take a car.

According to my Bike-sharing Blog and Bike-sharing World Map co-author, Russell Meddin, "There are approximately 70 cities that have partial or full pedelec systems totaling about 9,400 pedelecs in public use service world-wide. Most notably there is Jincheng, China with 3,000 pedelecs; Madrid with 2,000; Milan with 1,000; Barcelona with 400; Sendai, Japan with 300; and Birmingham, USA with 100." The number of municipalities and quantity of pedelec bikes surely will continue to grow.
JCDecaux's Automatix automatic gear change trial is likely from SRAM's Automatix and it has the bike shifting gears based on the rider's speed, rather than the rider needing to know when to change gears to get the most efficient pedaling. This innovation keeps cycling simple for the majority of people.

Fare types that better match the needs of the public is another innovation that is sorely needed. As discussed on The Bike-sharing Blog previously, bike-share needs fares that better match those of other transit systems. Let people pay for making one trip, rather than asking them to pay for a whole day of unlimited use. Very few systems charge a per minute or per trip fee, but thankfully they exist, like Montreal Bixi’s One Way Access and some Social Bicycles' systems. It's important that single trips are less expensive than the cost of riding a bus.

Integration with other transit modes is sorely needed to make bike-share easy to switch to or from rail and bus. Let me use my regional transit smartcard on bike-share, like Bordeaux innovated with Vcub. As many people now don’t leave home without their smartphone, let folks use their phone to check-out a bike instead of needing to also bring a fob or smartcard. London allows customers to pay by phone through their smartphone app and issues a PIN for the customer to release a bike. BCycle and RideScout are innovating to allow one to use a smartphone or Apple watch to both pay and unlock a bike.

The evolution of bike-share is turning it from bike rental into a full-blown regional transit system that is one of the big transport players. The bike-share industry needs to continue innovating to bring more customers, especially people who don’t bike, and would certainly not consider themselves a cyclist, into the fold and create more people simply who feel comfortable and safe on a bike. Two-wheel transit won’t reach its potential if it’s more bike than transit. It must be transit first and foremost that is on two wheels.

Now let’s push bike-share where it needs to go over the next decade with more amenities and by making it easier and more fun to use. The opportunity is enormous for bike-share to have an even greater impact on cities, on peoples’ health, and on the environment than it presently does.

image credits:
Santander Cycles

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