Here at LADOT we are working closely with Metro and coordinating with Santa Monica and Long Beach to bring bikeshare to Los Angeles County. As we work diligently on launching a regional system, we like to stay up to date about programs in other cities to understand best practices and learn from one another. Time and again, one trend has proven true – Bikeshare is here, there and everywhere and growing exponentially every year.
Nationally, within the last five years, bikeshare systems have boosted multi-modal mobility in large cities like Washington D.C., Chicago, Boston, New York, Bay Area, and Seattle. Bikeshare has also emerged as a mid- and small city transportation solution in Des Moines, Aspen, Boulder, San Antonio, and many more. Internationally, cities all over the world have launched bikeshare systems. As of September 2014, bikeshare programs help transport people in more than 700 cities in 57 countries, with a combined fleet close to 800,000 bicycles worldwide.
Bikeshare has seen upward trending growth in the past few years – in 2013 total program launches rose by 60%. A large part of this growth can be attributed to one country: China leads the world in terms of number of programs, stations, and bicycles by a long shot. The numbers increase daily, but as of September, 170 separate operations were on the ground in Chinese cities. Close seconds include Italy and Spain with 130 programs each. Tied for third were Germany, France, and the United States with roughly 40 cities each. To put that into perspective – while only one out of every six people live in China, three out of four bikeshare bikes, in the world, are located there.
Bicycling is not new to China. Three decades ago, China was referred to as the “Kingdom of Bicycles” due to the majority of the vast population who used bicycles for transportation. However, bicycle use has significantly declined over the past 20 years. Consistent with trends in “emerging markets“, China has shifted towards the automobile in recent years. One step China has taken to combat the declining numbers of people using bicycles for transportation and address transit connectivity was to launch public bikeshare programs countrywide. This shift has reignited the country’s passion for bicycling and helps to hinder the growing reliance on owning and utilizing automobiles.
Unfortunately, Chinese bikeshare programs are no stranger to the tricky financing issues that have complicated bikeshare systems throughout the world. Since bikeshare fares in China are relatively low (the first hour is free and each additional hour is 1 RMB or 16 cents USD), fare revenue alone cannot cover costs, and therefore the programs must be heavily subsidized. Local governments, as in many other countries, have used funding strategies, such as selling advertising space on the bikes and at the stations, to ensure the programs remain fiscally sustainable.
Let’s delve into two Chinese programs more closely…
Bikeshare in Hangzhou
The Hangzhou Public Bike program debuted in 2008 as the first information technology-based bikeshare program in mainland China, providing an affordable and convenient feeder service to public transit. Hangzhou’s bikeshare hosts 78,000 bikes and 2,435 stations, primarily located adjacent to public transit stations, recreational centers and commercial hubs. Larger bikeshare stations, located next to transit nodes, hold 80 to 140 bicycles. For comparison purposes, most U.S. cities have stations that can dock 10 to 20 bikes. The bikeshare programs utilize the same payment card system as the subway, bus, ferry and taxi systems to encourage convenient, multi-modal transportation. By 2011, 30% of transit commuters had incorporated bikeshare into their commute. It is estimated that by 2020 the city’s fleet could grow to 175,000 bikes!
Bikeshare in Guangzhou
The city of Guangzhou was named the winner of the 2011 Sustainable Transport Award, awarded by ITDP, an international nonprofit that works with cities on projects to reduce greenhouse gases and improve the quality of urban life. Guangzhou clinched the prize to honor its bus rapid transit (BRT) system, which opened in February 2010. Guangzhou’s BRT carries more than 25,000 passengers per hour in a single direction and 850,000 passengers per day, making it one of the world’s largest. Most importantly, the bus system seamlessly integrates into rail, bike paths, and the City’s bikeshare stations.
It was no small feat to integrate the City’s extensive BRT network with the 119 bikeshare stations with 6,433 bikes operating along the BRT corridor. A whopping 20,000 people currently use the city’s bikeshare system each day. This multi-modal transit corridor is part of broader urban design overhaul in Guangzhou, which includes new high-quality public spaces, attractive architecture and landscape design at and around the BRT stations. Watch Guangzhou’s BRT and bikeshare in action!
The bigger picture
The success of China’s massive bikeshare systems is a replicable approach to facilitating multi-modal mobility throughout the world. Integrating bikeshare with public transit is an investment that can yield great benefits – an increase in accessibility, mobility, and connectivity in the transportation system, as well as an improvement in sustainability and social equity in communities.
As we continue to work on our own system, we will continually monitor national and international progress. On our radar is the latest program to hit the streets – Buenos Aires, Argentina launched in March! Stay tuned #bikeLA!