Some Hints of What to Expect From NYC Bike-Sharing

D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare is currently the U.S.'s largest bike-sharing program. Photo: James Schwartz via Flickr.
D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare is currently the U.S.'s largest bike-sharing program, but New York is setting its sights on launching a system nine times larger. Photo: ## Schwartz via Flickr##

In just the first year after introducing Vélib, Parisian bike traffic jumped 70 percent. Montreal’s Bixi system saw 1 million rides in its first four months. And New York City’s Department of City Planning estimates that a bike-share program would be used by as many as 554,000 residents, 33,000 commuters and 4 million tourists annually, if built out sufficiently. Bike-sharing is a big deal, and the commitment signaled by the city today could make cycling a much more accessible and mainstream form of transportation for New Yorkers.

We won’t know exactly what the specs for New York City’s bike-sharing system might be until at least February, when bids are due. But the city’s RFP does describe a few aspects worth noting. Ben reported some of the major ones this morning — like free trips under 30 minutes for system members, or that the bikes will have at least three-speeds — but here’s a few more that jumped out at us:

  • The “go live” date for the program should be on or around April 1, 2012. But New Yorkers will have a chance to try out the system before then. The bike-share provider will have to set up a “street test” with at least thirty stations next summer or fall.
  • NYC DOT has recommended a system of about 10,000 bikes at 600 stations because the city sees that density of service as ensuring profitability. Bidders are encouraged to propose alternate system areas as they wish, however, so if providers see more money in larger or smaller systems, those are still on the table.
  • It’s a great deal for the city to actually make money by offering a new mobility option to New Yorkers, but the privatized model comes at a cost. The entire bike-sharing system will be the private property of the winning contractor and would be removed if the contract expired. DOT will retain significant control over the system, however, including the important ability to approve rates.
  • One thing DOT will own, however, is the system’s data. They want to be able to use that data for transportation planning, like they’re able to do with GPS data from the city’s taxis. There’s also an expectation that the data will be open enough that independent software developers could create apps for things like finding bike-sharing stations.
  • Advertising will be a significant revenue stream for the system, with ads allowed on the stations and the bikes. There’s also the possibility of selling naming rights for the system (as happened with London’s Barclays Cycle Hire), though the RFP warns bidders not to predicate their business model on those revenues.
  • The RFP offers the city significant flexibility in determining which bike-sharing system to select. All factors will be considered, so the city won’t be forced to take the bidder offering the most revenue, for example.

That’s some more of what we do know. Next we’ll be looking into the open questions about the system and the different approaches that new bike-sharing systems in places like D.C. or London have taken.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Again, I’d like to see lots of them at Grand Central, MetroNorth, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, and Atlantic Terminal.

    Consider how much money is being spent so that commuter rail riders can travel less than two miles without having to take the subway, paying again and perhaps waiting twice if a transfer is required.

    And that Lower Manhattan is considered a poor candidate for a major office tenant because of poor access to the suburbs.

    Those distances are nothing on a bicycle, particularly since a bike ride is as much recreation as commuting, and not just “dead time.”

    And suburban subway connectors add to peak demand in the peak locations, so shifting a share of them to other modes is a good thing. It would make a bike-rail-bike commute possible.

  • Peter Meitzler

    From Chapter 5 of the DOT Bike Share study, titled “Bicycling Demand.”

    “The type of user also affects the rate of bicycle turnover. For example, data gathered from Velib thus far shows that majority of annual members are commuters and that the average trip is 20 minutes. This indicates rapid bicycle turnover as commuters reach their place of work or transfer
    point. In contrast, tourists are more likely to rent bicycles for longer time spans in order to see multiple sites. It is likely that a bike-share program in New York would see similar patterns since 2000 US Census data shows that most New York City bicycle commuters (85%) currently travel
    less than 30 minutes in order to get to work.”

    — As long as a rider uses a Velib for less than 30 minutes, the ride is free. Friends of mine on student budgets in Paris would leap – frog around town, dropping one off just before hitting the 30 min. mark and starting again with another for > 30 min. trips.

    The data is not conclusive (to me at least) that each Velib overall trip was conducted in one rental period (<= 30 mins). Would be curious to see if it was screened for sequential usage by users. Wondering if this aspect were revealed, might it not be an indicator that the 30 min. mark should be pushed just a bit to 40 (?) mins? Would give those NYC non-riders and the 15% traveling longer far greater incentive to try a bikeshare — especially if a sweet advertising deal is reached.


  • J


    In Montreal, the Bixis have a 5-minute window between the 30-minute free periods, which allows but discourages longer trips. Pretty smart move in my opinion.

  • Where do I sign up?

  • There are some features you could build into the bikeshare bikes that would make them more attractive to “last leg” commuters who arrive at Penn Station or Grand Central and need to go another mile or two. Such as:

    1) Oil-less belt drive instead of chain, or an enclosed chain, to protect work clothes.

    2) Large bucket-like panniers with mesh bottoms allowing drainage and waterproof lids that close.

    3) Built-in digital clock on the handlebars or top tube.

    4) It’s probably not feasible from a litter or cost perspective, but it would be nice to have a paper towel dispenser at each station.

  • a cyclist

    i am worried that the taxi and limo commission will fight this as they are going to lose fares esp during the spring summer months

  • Larry Littlefield

    “i am worried that the taxi and limo commission will fight this.”

    Elected officials make decisions, not commissioners. The industry may fight it, but with the destruction of our transit system by debt, as the better off move to bikes and shared cabs they’ll have all the business they can handle.

    Meanwhile, since the TWU strike for 20/50 did not succeed but the UFT did a deal with Bloomberg and the state legislature for a big pension deal, watch the city’s schools get re-destroyed by pensions while the MTA gets re-destroyed by debts. As this independent pension actuary has calculated.

    We (they) have re-Lindsayed. Without Lindsay’s concern for minorities and the poor. Just the deals.

  • Two questions/issues:

    1. Is it normal to solicit private bidders for the system instead of do it publicly as a NYCDOT project?

    2. I may be projecting too much from my own commute issues, but I believe this will be the most useful for crosstown inner-urban commutes, where the subway sucks, and people live in apartments where it’s a nightmare to store a bike and carry it up and down the stairs. Will the bike station placement reflect this, or will it be more geared toward last-mile travel as Larry suggests?

  • Alon Levy, the RFP is very similar to the one that has been used in DC, Boston, Miami etc.

    Im pretty sure the cities are just “borrowing” existing RFPs and editing them slightly to fit their city. I’ve read multiple RFP’s and it’s funny to see almost identical sentences.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Alon raises the important question of the extent to which station placement will reflect the needs of each of the three major markets for the program–intra-zone commuters, “last mile” multi-modal commuters from outside the zone, and tourists. Given that it’s a for profit vendor running the thing (albeit with oversight from DoT), we should not assume that the vendor will not be tempted to locate stations based on maximizing advertising revenue without due regard for the success of the program as a transportation facility. After all, the ad revenues look a lot more reliable than the subscription revenues, right now.

  • Steven F

    The question of station placement is critical, but has to address both origin and destination, particularly with the 30 minute free window program. There has to be a bike share rack station at both ends of the trip so the bike can be locked up and checked back into the system.

    Sure, the rail stations, ferry and subway stations will be major target points, but there has to be a rack at the other end too. It should not be a just a one way trip demand. While commuter rail riders from Penn will grab bikes to ride to the East Side, GCT users will ride west, and depending on their schedules, may well swap bikes.

    Staff at an East River research hospital will get a bike from the most convenient subway station – #4 to A Train – and ride east to 1st or York Ave. Someone from an apartment house across from the hospital will grab the same bike and ride it west back into midtown, to an office or transfer to the train.

    One man’s origin is another man’s destination (to paraphrase Paul Simon.)

    This kind of swapping should go on all day, but the rack station have to be frequent and close enough that getting to or from one does not exceed walking the whole way or waiting on the bus or flagging a taxi.
    The bike share system will need some trucks to rearrange bikes occasionally. With the instrumented rack stations and GPS on the bikes, the managers can tell where there is an excess of bikes and where there is a shortage. If they have IQ above room temperature, they ought to have the right number of bikes where needed, unless the demand exceeds the total number of bikes out on the street.
    Wouldn’t that be a hoot!

    So the racks cannot be concentrated only at major terminals, or there would be no way to manage split two way operations.

    A big question will be whether there is enough demand in concentrated areas to support bike share in the boroughs. Much beyond LIRR Flatbush Terminal and multiple racks across downtown Brooklyn/Brooklyn Heights, is there enough demand in any borough? This may depend on how much the racks cost to sit there, as well as the cost of the bikes.

  • Thomas

    Great. I ride my bike into manhattan from the Bronx (about an hour ride). Had three bikes stolen this year. I guess I am totally left out of the equation.

  • Last mile riders and commuters present big problem for bike sharing, especially in New York – they tend to all go in the same direction, due to the somewhat mono-functional activity centers.

    For example in the morning, a bike rack at Grand Central would empty very quickly, but very few riders would go from the commercial districts back to Grand Central — which means that they would have to be hauled back by the people maintaining the system, which doesn’t work well in general. And bike share systems depend on each bike doing more than 2 trips a day, for the system to be financially viable.

    In Montreal this is already a big problem, although the city seems to be a bit more mixed in many areas. Generally, bike share systems work much better in mixed use areas/poly-centrual cities.

  • #13 ant6n, Yes indeed. Current systems are quite primitive.

  • The bike racks near Grand Central might be replenished in the morning with the bikes of riders coming from Penn Station, the ferry docks or the PATH train.

  • Cap’n: the bike racks at Penn Station would be depleted, then. The last-mile riders have a prevailing direction, to the north from the train stations to Midtown and from the ferry docks to the center of the island.

    The alternative is to use the zoning code to encourage the CBD to expand to the south, so that Penn and Herald Square would be at its center and not at its southern edge. But that takes a long time, and requires better policies than the failed attempt at redeveloping Hudson Yards.

  • I like the idea that I could ride my expensive bike for my 10+ mile commute, leave it securely in my office, use the bike share for short jaunts around the CBD, then use my expensive bike again for the return trip home.

    I hope the bike share expands quickly into uptown Manhattan and the outer boroughs.

  • I just came back from a weekend spent touring Washington, DC, where I’d been hoping to try out their bike-share. I saw one kiosk from the car window, walked for 45 minutes from Dupont Circle to the American Indian museum without seeing another, and all in all saw only two of the red bicycles being used. I guess the system is worthwhile if you know where the kiosks that you want to use are located.

    I could see bike share becoming a huge hassle after the second time you thought there was a kiosk near your destination and found out once you got there that there wasn’t one.

  •  Will the advertisement on stations and bikes be enough, if the program is in 2012?


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