So when will that happen? The answer is: It’s happening now.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has just released the first comprehensive snapshot of bike-share growth in the US. What it shows is that, from 2010 to 2016, bike sharing has gone from virtually nothing to … well, something. It is still a marginal means of transportation in the grand scheme of things, but if current growth rates hold, that won’t be true for long.
Let’s look at some of the top-line numbers.
There were 88 million total bike-share trips taken in the US between 2010 and 2016. The annual number of trips reached 28 million in 2016. (By way of comparison, there were 10.75 billion trips on public transportation in 2016.) The number of bikes has grown to 42,000.
Bike share systems are rapidly spreading. Though the concept dates back to 1965 (in Amsterdam, of course), there were only four systems in the US in 2010; there are now 55. (NACTO defines a bike-share system as “at least 10 stations and 100 bikes.”)
As the size of those dots indicates, however, the overwhelming share (85 percent) of bike-share rides are taken in a few key cities with large systems: Citi Bike in New York, Capital Bikeshare in Greater Washington DC, Citi Bike in Miami, Divvy in Chicago, and Hubway in Greater Boston.
As you can see, New York City is responsible for a lion’s share of the nation’s total bike-share riders (just as it is responsible for a lion’s share of its total transit riders).
Bike sharing systems don’t run on cheap-bikes-in-wooden-sheds any more. Most existing systems have “smart docks,” with automatic locks and digital tracking. And just about all new systems since 2014 use “smart bikes,” which have all the locking, tracking, and other digital gear onboard, making use more convenient.
There have been persistent concerns about equity in bike share systems. Especially early on, they were generally marketed to and used by upscale professionals. However, more and more bike-share systems (24 percent) are offering subsidies for low-income riders.
Philadelphia’s Indego system, for instance, offers cash payment (for those without a credit card) and has begun offering subsidies for low-income riders. As a result, NACTO says, “the number of new subscribers with a household income under $35,000 using the system jumped from 27% in 2015 to 44% in 2016.”
It’s also worth noting that bike sharing systems are extremely, almost spookily, safe. My colleague Brad Plumer wrote last year that while the overall fatality rate for cycling in the US stands at 21 per 100 million trips, bike sharing fatalities currently stand at: zero. (Sadly, that is no longer current — in July 2016, bike sharing saw its first-ever fatality, in Chicago.)
NACTO emphasizes that its snapshot is only a snapshot; many existing systems are planning expansions. Houston’s B-Cycle plans to more than double its number of both bikes and stations. New York City’s Citi Bike, already the nation’s largest system, plans to go from 10,000 to 12,000 bikes and from 600 to 750 stations. Expansions are also in the works in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Phoenix/Mesa, and San Francisco/Oakland, among others.
More cities are sure to jump on the bandwagon. Bike sharing systems are almost universally popular. They typically use very little tax revenue, covering costs with sponsorships and user fees. They both complement and support public transit systems. And, of course, riding bikes just makes people happy. People could use a little happy these days.