Bike sharing became a surprising common theme throughout last week’s Transforming Transportation conference, which was co-hosted by EMBARQ and The World Bank and featured debates, panels, and lectures on the rise of sustainable urban transportation. Amit Bhatt, EMBARQ India, stood in front of a packed conference room to speak about the challenges he faced creating bike sharing programs in India. “If the cost outweighs the revenue,” he says as he scans the room, “how do you fund it?”
To say the least, bike sharing programs are expensive. A community can expect to spend $3,000 to $5,000 on a single bike in these programs, not including operations and management. These bikes are stronger than any mainstream bike one can find, but they are difficult to pitch to developing countries.
“India’s challenge is urbanization,” explains Bhatt. “With urbanization comes higher motorization.” There are so many two-wheelers are on the streets now that there are as many reported accidents in India as there are vehicles.
In October 2011, Kerberon Automations launched ATCAG-Bikeshare in Bangalore, India. This has been one of the more successful attempts to bring bike sharing programs into India. This program has a similar functionality to Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare, using individual Smart Cards to unlock the bicycles.
Developing countries in Asia react well to successes in other Asian countries. Although there are successful programs in Europe and the Americas, it takes proven success in countries such as China and India to influence developing Asian countries to pursue these programs.
The volume of shared bicycles in China surpasses most, if not all other countries. According to Bhatt, the city of Hangzhou alone has 60,000 bicycles in their public bike system. For comparison, Paris’ Vélib’ has over 20,000 bicycles (see below) and Capital Bikeshare’s program has just 1,670.
“The Chinese program is innovative,” said Li Shanshan, Bike Sharing Program Manager of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). Though it was originally copied from Paris, there are thousands of bikes at one station, with little more than a security guard and a turnstile in place to keep the program organized.
But the undeniable news is that cities around the world are starting to realize that it’s worth the expense. The panel agreed on many things throughout the day, but none more than that these bike sharing programs need to be considered a part of a public transit system.
According to Jeff Olson, Alta Planning + Design, the benefits of a bike sharing program outweigh the costs. “[One program] can bring around 200 more jobs,” he said. Among the other benefits are economic development, higher mobility, public health and safety.
Olson had the crowd imagine a fully-integrated transit system. One would be able to use the same fare card for buses, bikes, or the subway. When you look at bike sharing as part of the entire system, it’s easier to see the cost of bike sharing in a different light. Though it may be more than $3,000 per bike, what is the cost per passenger mile? What’s the cost when health benefits and traffic reduction is taken into account?
We don’t have all the data we need yet. That is because this is still a young industry.
“If I was asked to be on a panel for bike sharing three years ago,” Olson said, “I would have said no or had to spend [far too much] time explaining what bike sharing is.”
In the end, it’s nearly impossible to make a profit from these programs, according to the panelists. The benefit to these programs lies in reduced traffic and pollution from cars and two-wheelers; a happier, healthier community that can get from “Point A” to “Point B” as quickly as possible; and an improved economy with new jobs in the sustainable transportation field. Bike sharing may be in its infancy in many countries, but as long as it stays tied to public transit systems, it will be able to flourish.
This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator.