How Small Cities Can Get Big Benefits from Flexible Bikesharing

Big cities, such as New York City, are celebrated for their successful bikesharing programs, with thousands of bikes and hundreds of smart docking stations. For smaller cities and towns, however, this is not a practical model.

Big and small cities have the same need for bikesharing: to fill transportation gaps, reduce traffic and parking congestion, promote sustainability, build a bike a pedestrian culture, promote active lifestyles, and support local business. They differ, however, in the following ways: small cities have lower densities, established driving cultures, and a smaller tax base.

In a recent webinar, bikesharing provider Zagster and the Shared Use Mobility Center, a public interest organization working to foster collaboration in shared mobility, spotlighted flexible bikesharing systems, in which the technology necessary to borrow and lock a bike resides in the bikes themselves rather than in expensive, fixed docking stations.

Flexible bikesharing offers an alternative that's more realistic for smaller budgets and ridership. Where traditional bikesharing systems can take millions of dollars and years to implement, flexible bikesharing, which uses lightweight kiosks or even bike racks as hubs, can be quickly and affordably tested and implemented.

The webinar was designed to give those living in cities with less than 50,000 people an overview of flexible bikesharing systems, including the benefits and challenges of launching one. Here are the key takeaways:

Benefits of Tech-on-bike, Flexible Bikesharing

  • There are fewer “ingredients” with flexible bikesharing. All you need is a bike, though kiosks and racks are helpful.
  • Flexible bikesharing melds into the streetscape as it has a lower profile footprint
  • The hardware is lightweight
  • Data gathered from bikes during demos and pilot programs can inform project planning
  • Riders can access to the bike system via an app
  • Flexible bike sharing is easy and inexpensive to upgrade
  • It’s an investment toward more bike infrastructure in cities
  • It’s easy to install and move

Equity

Flexible bikesharing enables cities to diversify their fleet of bikes to include accessible bikes for riders that would otherwise be unable to participate in bikesharing. While flexible bikesharing is generally accessed with a smartphone, a smartphone is not necessary. You can use simple SMS/text messaging or even a code given out at a local library or community center.

Funding

There are various funding models, including nonprofits, businesses, advocacy groups, government organizations, real estate organizations and universities. Fort Collins, Colorado is an interesting case study as its collaborative sponsorship model includes public funding, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and businesses.

Grant funding sources at the federal level may include Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ), STP Transportation Enhancements, Transportation Investments Generation Economic Recovery (TIGER). Grant funding sources at a local level may include energy and R&D pilot funds, public health grants, parking credits, toll revenues and affordable housing funds.

Scaling

Flexible bikesharing allows cities to easily and affordably test pilot programs before scaling. Scaling to more neighborhoods and surrounding municipalities is easier and less expensive than with traditional, docking bikesharing systems. Payment can be integrated with existing public transit payment systems, such as transit cards.

Challenges of Flexible Bikesharing

  • Flexible bikesharing is not as visible as traditional bikesharing systems with docking stations.
  • It’s still relatively new so there’s limited data about sponsorship and models
  • Long-term and/or high-volume durability is unknown
  • Flexible bikesharing is less friendly for a tourist who may not be interested in downloading app and learning how the bikesharing system works.
  • Small cities have to determine whether they’re targeting their bikesharing system for residents or tourists.

Download the webinar: Making Bike Share Work Outside of the Big City

More bike share resources from Shareable:

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Photo: David Marcu (CC-0).