Public Bikesharing in North America: Early Operator and User Understanding

Posted by Content Coordinator on Friday, July 27th, 2012



Concerns about global climate change, congestion, and oil dependency have caused many decisionmakers and policy experts worldwide to examine the need for more sustainable transportation strategies. Public bikesharing—the shared use of a bicycle fleet by the public—is one strategy that could help address many of these concerns. Many consider it a form of public transit. Since 1965, bikesharing has grown across the globe in Europe, North America, South America, Asia, and Australia. As of May 2012, there were approximately 184 bikesharing programs operating in an estimated 204 cities around the world, with about 368,600 bicycles at more than 13,600 stations on 5 continents and 36 countries.

The principle of public bikesharing is simple: Bikesharing users access bicycles on an as-needed basis. Bikesharing stations are typically unattended and concentrated in urban settings. They provide a variety of pickup and drop-off locations, enabling an on-demand, very low emission form of mobility. The majority of bikesharing programs cover the cost of bicycle maintenance, storage, and parking (similar to carsharing or short-term auto access). Trips can be point-to-point, round-trip, or both, allowing the bikes to be used for one-way transport and for multimodal connectivity (first-and-last mile trips, many-mile trips, or both). Generally, trips of less than 30 minutes are free. Users join the bikesharing organization on an annual, monthly, daily, or per-trip basis. Members can pick up a bike at any dock by using their credit card, membership card, or key, and/or a mobile phone. When they finish using the bike, they can return it to any dock (or the same dock in a round-trip service) where there is room and end their session.

By addressing the storage, maintenance, and parking aspects of bicycle ownership, bikesharing encourages cycling among users who may not otherwise use bicycles. Additionally, the availability of a large number of bicycles in multiple dense, nearby locations frequently creates a “network-effect,” further encouraging cycling and, more specifically, the use of public bikesharing for regular trips (e.g., commuting, errands).


This study documents the state of public bikesharing in the United States and Canada, as well as the transportation, environmental, land use, and social impacts associated with it, informing the following:

1.    Status of bikesharing operations in the U.S. and Canada;
2.    Key attributes and business models of bikesharing operations in the U.S. and Canada;
3.    Economics of bikesharing in the U.S. and Canada; and
4.    Evolution of IT-Based bikesharing in the U.S. and Canada.

In addition, the study documents a variety of public bikesharing impacts among early adopters in four cities, including:

1.    Impact of bikesharing on walking, bicycling, and public transit;
2.    Purpose of bikesharing trips, bikesharing system use, and user perception;
3.    Impact of public bikesharing on driving and vehicle ownership; and
4.    Role of commute distance in public bikesharing use and travel pattern impacts.


Read full report (PDF): Public Bikesharing in North America: Early Operator and User Understanding

About Mineta Transportation Institute
“The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) conducts research, education, and information and technology transfer, focusing on multimodal surface transportation policy and management issues. It was established by Congress in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and was reauthorized under TEA-21 and again under SAFETEA-LU. The Institute is funded by Congress through the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration, by the California Legislature through the Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and by other public and private grants and donations, including grants from the US Department of Homeland Security. DOT selected MTI as a National Center of Excellence following competitions in 2002 and 2006. The internationally respected members of the MTI Board of Trustees represent all major surface transportation modes. MTI’s focus on policy and management resulted from the Board’s assessment of the transportation industry’s unmet needs. That led directly to choosing the José State University College of Business as the Institute’s home.”

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