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: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/36871124@N04/5052599503/##James 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.

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