Public bike share systems are a game-changer. They dramatically expand the places one can reach quickly and easily. They are a type of public transit that gives the same mobility as individual private transport, without the public or private costs. They represent an official public statement that bicycling is an important part of our public transportation mix.
Bike sharing is very safe. Over 32,000 bikes in 105 municipalities throughout the country have hosted more than 71 million rides since the first ride in August 2008. Not a single fatality has been reported, despite the fact that riders almost never wear safety gear such as a helmet when riding a bike share bike.
Bike share systems are expanding in California, but not nearly fast enough. Vastly different business models confuse the public and impede progress. Expensive pricing structures and profit-oriented distribution policies prevent bike share from serving the low-income communities. For bike share to truly serve all Californians, the following principles should be followed:
1. Bike share systems must be compatible on a statewide level.
Bike share systems must stress compatibility on all levels, starting with transit passes such as the Clipper Card used by transit agencies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Californians with a bike share account should be able to universally access a bicycle, no matter the city or the vendor.
2. Bike share locations and pricing must be ridership-driven, not profit-driven.
Like public transit, bike share systems should be expanded first where they are most likely to be used, not where they are are most likely to generate revenue. This will require (relatively minor) public subsidies and variable pricing including discounts for low-income riders.
3. Vendors must adopt an open data format.
Bike share bikes are all outfitted with a GPS unit or radio-frequency identification chips called RFIDs, which gather user data. Useful data about bicyclist travel patterns are few and far between; information gathered from bike share systems represent a quantum leap forward for bicycle planners and decision makers. Sharing information about how and where people use a bike share system can help strengthen arguments for more bicycle infrastructure, which will lead to more bicyclists, which will lead to more customers for bike share! While proprietary information should be protected, all else should be shared in an open data format.