Public Bikesharing in North America: Early Operator and User Understanding

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Public Bikesharing in North America: Early Operator and User Understanding


Public bikesharing—the shared use of a bicycle fleet—is an innovative transportation strategy that has recently emerged in major North American cities. 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 both a first-and-last mile (connector to other modes) and a many-mile solution. As of January 2012, 15 IT-based, public bikesharing systems were operating in the United States, with a total of 172,070 users and 5,238 bicycles. Four IT-based programs in Canada had a total of 44,352 users and 6,235 bicycles.

This study evaluates public bikesharing in North America, reviewing the advances in technology and major events during its rapid expansion. We conducted 14 interviews with industry experts, public officials, and governmental agencies in the United States and Canada during summer 2011/spring 2012 and interviewed all 19 IT-based bikesharing organizations in the United States and Canada in spring 2012. Several bikesharing insurance experts were also consulted in spring 2012. Notable developments during this period include the emergence of a close partnership between vendor and operator and technological advances, such as mobile bike-docking stations that can be moved to different locations and real-time bike/station tracking to facilitate system rebalancing and provide user information.

During fall 2011 and early 2012, we also completed a user survey (n=10,661) to obtain information on four early IT-based systems: BIXI in Montreal; BIXI in Toronto; Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C.; and Nice Ride Minnesota in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul). The survey found that the most common trip purpose for bikesharing is commuting to either work or school. Not surprisingly, respondents in all cities indicated that they increased bicycling as a result of bikesharing. Respondents in the denser cities generally stated that they walked and rode bus and rail less, while in the Twin Cities, respondents reported that they walked and rode rail more but rode the bus slightly less. These shifts may be a function of city size and density, as open-access bicycles can more quickly and easily serve riders on congested transportation networks. Respondents in all cities overwhelmingly indicated that they drive less as a result of bikesharing, indicating that it reduces vehicle miles/kilometers traveled and vehicle emissions.



Susan Shaheen is a lecturer 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 also 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 PhD 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. She has earned a variety of honors, including two national research awards for her contributions to a carsharing pilot program (2001) and a smart parking field test (2005). 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 co-edited one book and authored 42 journal articles, two book chapters, and more than 65 reports and proceedings articles. She is an editorial board member of the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation. She was the chair of the Emerging and Innovative Public Transport and Technologies (AP020) Committee of the Transportation Research Board (2004 to 2011) and served as the founding chair of the Carsharing/Station Car TRB Subcommittee from 1999 to 2004.


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 PhD in civil and environmental engineering and a dual Masters 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.


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 Masters 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.


Rachel Finson is a project manager at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) within the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She has more than twenty years of experience in the transportation arena on issues pertaining to air quality, carbon emissions, transportation demand management, alternative fuels, advanced technologies, and land use. She received her Masters degree in environment, technology, and society from Clark University in Massachusetts. Prior to joining TSRC, she managed the transportation program for the Energy Foundation. She has extensive experience managing projects with diverse participants, coordinating multiple objectives and goals, and understanding obstacles to successful program implementation. 
Rachel joined TSRC in 2002, to design and manage innovative mobility projects. Her interest in transportation is in bringing innovative ideas and technologies together in a manner that will reduce the negative environmental impacts of transportation while enhancing mobility options.

June 2012
Public bikesharing
North America
Market analysis
User survey
Social and environmental impacts



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