density, the helmet question, whether
or not infrastructure improvements
will come with bike sharing,
(Photos © J. Maus)
As I reported last week, a plan to bring bike sharing to Portland is alive and well. But, what exactly does the plan entail? How will Portland’s system compare with the 15 other bike share programs already in place throughout North America? Will helmets be required? Will it be expensive to use?
During research for that article, I came across some supporting documentation for a federal grant to fund the Portland Bike Share project (full PDF here). Among that documentation was a “Component analysis of bike share systems.” It provides an in-depth look at how various components of the Portland Bike Share project will look.
Below, I’ve pasted each component followed by “Portland’s approach” and then the City’s rationale for the decision…
Station location: Densely concentrated vs. spread expansively
Portland’s Approach: Densely concentrated
Rationale: Paris’ Velib bike share planners noted that stations should be every 300 meters. Dense systems tend to increase bike utilization rates, whether the systems are large (e.g., Montreal 500 stations at 27 stations/sq mile with 2.5 trips/bike/day) or Dublin 37 stations at 15 stations/sq mile w/ 10 trips/bike/day). Conversely, Minneapolis system has about 9 stations/sq mile which allows more districts/neighborhoods access to the system but has a much lower utilization rate at roughly 1 trip/bike/day. Portland plans to mirror Montreal in station density. Effective utilization not only requires a density of station but a high density of uses within the service area to be successful. Portland has chosen to locate the vast majority of stations in the city’s highest density districts related to employment, residential, commercial activity and tourist destinations.
Portland’s Approach: Yes
Rationale: Portland believes a successful bike sharing system is predicated on having at least a basic level of bike infrastructure to facilitate comfortable and safe bicycling by novice users. A decade ago, Paris was known as one of western Europes worst cities for cycling. Before implementing Velib, Paris added nearly 125 miles of bicycle facilites. Portland has over 300 miles of bike facilities and the Central City provides a variety of bike lanes, bike paths, neighborhood greenways and lower traffic streets. All of these are complimented by traffic signal timing that keeps traffic speeds in the CBD at 12 mph and allows cyclists to keep with traffic in nearly all travel lanes. The proposed cycling improvements will include signage and road treatments to direct less experienced cyclists to lower trafficked streets, encourage bicyclists to “take the lane,” and lessen contact with road hazards such as streetcar and light rail tracks.
Market analysis: Membership pricing plan
Portland’s Approach: Undecided, but leaning toward lower cost structure
Rationale: Montreal’s Bixi has generated the most bike sharing trips (3.3 million in its first 10 months) in North America, yet paradoxically has the highest cost ($78 US) for an annual membership. Dublin has the world’s highest utilization rate and has a very low cost for annual membership ($16 US). PBOT has projected similar levels of membership revenue for each pricing model given the projected higher membership uptake with a low price point, but there are concerns about the cost of operating a system with a very high utilization rate and customer dissatisfaction due to uncertainty of bike availability. Conversely, a low price point extends access to the widest range of users.
Market analysis: Who is the audience?
Portland’s Approach: Commuters, students, business travelers and tourists
Rationale: Large North American and European systems (Minneapolis, Paris, Lyon, etc.) have consistently found commute (to work and school) and work-related trips to comprise the majority of bike sharing trips. Business travelers and tourists are a significant portion of the total market (~40% of trips in Minneapolis) and provide a lucrative revenue stream; while over 95% of trips by annual members are less than 30 minutes (Montreal, Minneapolis and DC/Arlington) and thus do not generate rider fees, tourists and travelers are more likely to view rider fees associated w/ longer trips as nominal.
Baskets: Yes or No?
Portland’s Approach: Capacity to carry light cargo required, method is open.
Rationale: The two major North American bike sharing companies in 2010 were Bixi and Bcycle who took different approaches to cargo carrying capacity. Bcycle’s basket provides convenience and prevents uncontained items from spilling while also providing additional real estate for sponsor attribution (logos). The baskets also double as a trash receptacle for inconsiderate passersby and require maintenance to maintain system attractiveness. Conversely, Bixi provides an open-toothed carrying area with a bungee-type cord that allows for a wider range of dimensions of light cargo but loose contents require the user to have a bag/box to contain them. It provides very little additional real estate for sponsorship attribution.
Helmets: Require, encourage, or ignore?
Portland’s Approach: Encourage, not require
Rationale: There are several reasons Portland will not require users to wear helmets: improbablility of distribution, helmet safety, sanitation, and inconvenience to users. Melbourne, Australia is the only city of 230 worldwide with bike sharing systems ito require bike sharing users to wear helmets and it is only generating 70 trips/day on its 600 bike system, one of the lowest trip rates for a bike share system of that size. Helmet distribution through vending machines would not only be expensive, but raises serious questions about the structural integrity of these collectively used helmets. A helmet dropped several times can lose its efficacy and there is no feasible way to assess the helmet’s safety. Hygiene (imagine a helmet used by 5 different individuals on a hot summer day) is also a great concern. Melbourne has partnered with 7-Eleven to offer $5 helmets that can be returned for $3 and are sanitized between uses, which PBOT will explore. Like our nationally recognized Portland SmartTrips programs, Portland will encourage helmet use but not require it.
Ownership model: Public and/or private?
Portland’s Approach: Open to various business plans
Rationale: In nearly all North American bike sharing systems, local governments have played a very active role – both financially and with in-kind support – regardless of whether they own the system, and Portland feels comfortable with each model. Minneapolis’ Nice Ride system is owned by the Nice Ride nonprofit corporation but seed funding ($397,000) was provided by the City and supported their $1.75 million Bike/Walk Twin Cities grant in their first year. Similarly, the nonprofit Denver Bike Sharing owns and operates its system but received $1 million from the City of Denver gift from the Democratic National Committee for hosting the 2008 convention) and had 1 FTE staff on loan. The District of Columbia’s DOT owns its bike sharing system and, with Arlington County, contracts the operation of the system to a private consultant, Alta Bicycle Sharing.
I hope this information furthers the public dialogue on this project. For more on Portland’s quest for bike sharing, read the extensive BikePortland archives on the topic.