Bike Sharing Programs Widespread

February 4, 2009

Bike sharing programs are becoming an increasingly popular way to provide affordable transportation that requires less energy, while boosting various sectors of the economy. Bicycle riding can be popular year-round in much of the country, and prime season will soon be arriving in colder areas as spring approaches.

Bike sharing generally involves providing loaner bicycles at various locations in a city, usually at low or no cost. Programs can target certain markets, such as employees of a business or government agency, or they can be open to anyone. They can be operated or funded by a wide variety of organizations, such as businesses, government agencies, universities, or nonprofit groups. The method of providing a bicycle can vary from an automated, credit-card operated version of a vending machine to a staffed setting such as a bicycle shop.

Energy use and pollution generation can be dramatically lower than that of most other forms of transportation, and bike riders will likely see substantial health benefits.

Many sectors of the economy can benefit, such as manufacturers of bicycles and related equipment (e.g., bike racks); maintenance businesses; contractors who build things such as bike paths or the centralized bike vending stations; advertising agencies that market the programs; and businesses, including health care organizations, that use the programs as a lure for customers, or as part of a benefits package for their employees.

Of course, some sectors of the economy could see some small losses — larger if the programs eventually catch on in a big way — such as vehicle manufacturers, maintenance shops, and road construction companies.

There already are at least 128 programs for bike sharing, or some other form of encouraging increased use or knowledge of bicycles, in 37 states in the US, according to the International Bicycle Fund (IBF). Another 15 or more programs exist in Canada, in at least 5 provinces, and there are programs in at least 16 other countries.

  • IBF, Community Bike Programs Directory (note: if you're interested in Maine, there's one small program listed in the details for the states beginning with "Maryland, Massachusetts..." even though Maine isn't listed initially with those states).

New programs are in the works. One example is Denver, Colorado's Denver B-Cycle program, planned to begin operating in the summer of 2009. It was triggered in large part by favorable feedback on a small bike share program provided at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Initial funding of $1 million for Denver B-Cycle came from the Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee. Along with the bike sharing that will be available to anyone, the city announced on the same day a pilot bike sharing program for its employees.

In Minneapolis, which already has a suite of bicycle programs, a bike share program is also in the works for 2009.

As with the Denver program, the Minneapolis program was spurred in part by the success of a bike sharing program at the 2008 Republican National Convention. A catalyst for both those programs was the health insurance company Humana, which initiated a bike-sharing program in 2007 in its headquarters city of Louisville, KY. The company is working to provide similar programs in various locations around the country.

A partner in Humana's Freewheelin program is the industry-oriented organization Bikes Belong. That organization can be a source of bicycling activities in your area. It also is currently touting 96 communities that it says are the most bicycle-oriented.

Another resource for scouting out existing or new bike sharing programs is:

If you're not aware of a bike sharing program in your area, and none are included in the resources above, check with local bike shops, government agencies, universities, businesses, or likely exercise-, health-, or environmentally-oriented organizations to see what they are aware of.