MTI Report 12-29

Research Report Public Bikesharing in North America During a Period of Rapid Expansion: Understanding Business Models, Industry Trends, and User Impacts (PDF 3.1MB)

Principal Investigator: Susan A. Shaheen, Ph.D.


Public bikesharing—the shared use of a bicycle fleet—is an innovative transportation strategy that has recently emerged in major cities around the world, including North America. Information technology (IT)-based bikesharing systems typically position bicycles throughout an urban environment, among a network of docking stations, for immediate access. Trips can be one-way, round-trip, or both, depending on the operator. Bikesharing can serve as a first-and-last mile connector to other modes, as well as for both short and long distance destinations. In 2012, 22 IT-based public bikesharing systems were operating in the United States, with a total of 884,442 users and 7,549 bicycles. Four IT-based programs in Canada had a total of 197,419 users and 6,115 bicycles. Two IT-based programs in Mexico had a total of 71,611 users and 3,680 bicycles. (Membership numbers reflect the total number of short- and long-term users.)

This study evaluates public bikesharing in North America, reviewing the change in travel behavior exhibited by members of different programs in the context of their business models and operational environment. This Phase II research builds on data collected during our Phase I research conducted in 2012. During the 2012 research (Phase I), researchers conducted 14 expert interviews with industry experts and public officials in the United States and Canada, as well as 19 interviews with the manager and/or key staff of IT-based bikesharing organizations. For more information on the Phase I research, please see the Shaheen et al., 2012 report Public Bikesharing in North America: Early Operator and User Understanding.

For this Phase II study, an additional 23 interviews were conducted with IT-based bikesharing organizations in the United States, Canada, and Mexico in Spring 2013. Notable developments during this period include the ongoing expansion of public bikesharing in North America, including the recent launches of multiple large bikesharing programs in the United States (i.e., Citi Bike in New York City, Divvy in Chicago, and Bay Area Bike Share in the San Francisco Bay Area).

In addition to expert interviews, the authors conducted two kinds of surveys with bikesharing users. One was the online member survey. This survey was sent to all people for whom the operator had an email address. The population of this survey was mainly annual members of the bikesharing system, and the members took the survey via a URL link sent to them from the operator. The second survey was an on-street survey. This survey was designed for anyone, including casual users (i.e., those who are not members of the system and use it on a short-term basis), to take “on-street” via a smartphone.

The member survey was deployed in five cities: Montreal, Toronto, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and Mexico City. The on-street survey was implemented in three cities: Boston, Salt Lake City, and San Antonio.


Susan A. Shaheen, Ph.D.

Susan Shaheen is an adjunct professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and an associate research engineer at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center. She served as the Policy and Behavioral Research Program leader at California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways from 2003 to 2007 and as a special assistant to the Director’s Office of the California Department of Transportation from 2001 to 2004. In 2004, she became a research associate with the Mineta Transportation Institute. She has a Ph.D. in ecology, focusing on technology management and the environmental aspects of transportation, from the University of California, Davis (1999) and a Masters degree in public policy analysis from the University of Rochester (1990). She completed her post-doctoral studies on advanced public transportation systems at the University of California, Berkeley in July 2001. Her research projects on carsharing, smart parking, and older mobility have received national awards. In May 2010 and 2007, she received the Berkeley Staff Assembly’s Excellence in Management award in recognition of her leadership and mentorship. She has authored 52 journal articles, over 100 reports and proceedings articles, three book chapters, and co-edited one book. She has also served as a guest editor for Energies and the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation (IJST). She has served on the ITS World Congress program committee since 2002 and was the chair of the Emerging and Innovative Public Transport and Technologies Committee of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) from 2004 to 2011. She is on the editorial board of IJST (2011 to present), a member of the National Academies’ Transit Research Analysis Committee (2011 to present), and chair of the subcommittee for Shared-Use Vehicle Public Transport Systems of TRB (2013 to present).

Elliot W. Martin, Ph.D.

Elliot Martin is an assistant research engineer at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) within the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He holds a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering and a dual Master’s degree in transportation engineering and city planning, all from the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, he worked as an assistant economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Bachelor’s degree in economics and computer science.

Nelson D. Chan, Ph.D.

Nelson Chan is a survey researcher at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley. His work includes understanding the growth and potential of shared-use mobility–carsharing, bikesharing, and ridesharing–as powerful strategies for reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions. His work also extends into fuel-efficient driving strategies, known as ecodriving, examining its behavioral, technical, and policy issues, as well as potential long-term impacts to climate change. He is particularly interested in how new technologies in ecodriving and shared-use mobility can influence travel behavior. Nelson completed his M.Eng. degree in transportation engineering with minors in city & regional planning and energy & resources at UC Berkeley in 2011. Prior to coming to Berkeley, he earned his B.S. in civil & environmental engineering from UCLA in 2009.

Adam P. Cohen, Ph.D.

Adam Cohen is a research associate at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Since joining the group in 2004, he has focused his research on worldwide carsharing and public bikesharing. He has co-authored numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. In 2008, he completed a dual Master’s degree in city and regional planning and international affairs from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a dual Bachelor’s degree in urban studies and legal studies.

Mike Pogodzinski, Ph.D.

Mike Pogodzinski is a professor of economics at San Jose State University and a Research Associate of the Mineta Transportation Institute. His research and teaching interests are in urban public finance. He has published numerous papers in journals such as the Journal of Urban Economics, Land Economics, and Regional Science and Urban Economics. He is co-author (with Rick Kos) of Economic Development and GIS, published by Esri Press in 2012. He is a recreational cyclist, taking on the hills of San Francisco.



Authors: Susan A. Shaheen, Ph.D., Elliot W. Martin, Ph.D., Nelson D. Chan, Adam P. Cohen, and Mike Pogodzinski, Ph.D.
Published: October 2014
Keywords: Bikesharing, North America, User impacts, Industry trends, Business models