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Public bikesharing has emerged as one of the latest transportation innovations, transforming North American cities and providing people with more transportation options. Much attention has focused on how new bikesharing programs fit in with the largely auto-oriented transportation culture. But there is another fascinating question: how do bikesharing programs influence the travel patterns of their members with respect to travel by rail, bus, and on foot? Our earlier study of several North American cities found the following:

  • In large, dense cities, where public transit provides a robust network of lines and services, bikesharing may offer quicker, cheaper, and more direct connections for short distances normally traveled by walking or public transit. Though bikesharing competes with traditional public transit services, it also eases transit congestion during peak hours.
  • In suburbs and small- to medium-sized cities, where public transit can be sparse, bikesharing complements transit and provides better access to and from existing lines. In these places, bikesharing serves as an important first- and last-mile connector and increases public transit use.

Despite notable differences in how bikesharing programs affect different cities, they consistently enhance urban mobility and reduce automobile use. To better understand these enhancements, we delve further into the demographics of bikeshare members and provide a detailed analysis of how bikesharing affects other types of travel.

Bikesharing Background

Bikeshare systems allow users to access bicycles on an as-needed basis from a network of stations typically concentrated in urban areas. Bikesharing stations are usually unattended and accessible at all hours, providing an on-demand mobility option. Most bikeshare operators are responsible for bicycle maintenance, storage, and parking costs. Bikesharing patrons join the system for an annual fee or rent a bike on a trip-by-trip basis. At the conclusion of their rental, riders return the bike to any docking station, which allows for both one-way and roundtrip travel. One-way travel has, in particular, unlocked new travel options that result in modal shifts among bikeshare users. For example, a person might bikeshare in the morning to get to work and then take the bus home.

Bikesharing has the potential to bridge gaps in existing transportation networks as well as encourage people to use multiple transportation modes. Bikeshare systems offer numerous benefits:

  • reduced transportation costs, traffic congestion, and fuel use;
  • increased mobility and use of alternative travel modes (e.g., rail, bus, taxi, carsharing, ridesharing);
  • economic development;
  • health benefits; and
  • greater environmental awareness.

Although before-and-after studies documenting public bikesharing benefits are limited, several programs have conducted member surveys and collected bicycle data to record program effects. Early program data suggest that bikesharing can result in emission reductions and modal shifts. For example, in Boston, Hubway data showed a carbon offset of 285 tons after two years of bikesharing operation.

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