Why Your Bike Share Isn't

There are two popular sayings when it comes to sharing in general: To love is to share, and to share is to learn. For bike sharing specifically, no two sayings could be more perfect. Innovation within the bike sharing industry has been driven by the love of its rabid supporters, and by the experiences of hundreds of programs.

But despite all of the positive energy in bike sharing, there are still tons of programs that haven’t learned from past mistakes. Even worse, new programs launch every day based on failed programs of old. Bike sharing is hot right now, so leaders within universities, corporations, apartment buildings, and hotel properties, are rushing to compete by bringing their own bike sharing services to their communities.  But they are building bike share programs that, well, aren’t.

Here are some characteristics of a wanna-be bike sharing program:

A custom bike program

The concept of bike sharing originated in the Netherlands with what was called “yellow bikes.”  These yellow bikes were off-the-rack bikes, custom painted to signify that they were meant as a shared resource. What happened? Well, lots of things happened, but sharing wasn’t one of them. The bikes were often disassembled and sold for parts, or stolen and repainted completely. Some bikes were hoarded, others were tossed in the canals.

Nowadays, people spend tons of money on custom painted and designed bikes, sometimes with the logos and colors of corporations, hotels, or apartment buildings. But they don’t invest in any automated sharing technology that enables them to structure programs that have value to themselves or to their intended users, which is a huge letdown. To give them the benefit of the doubt, unregulated bike share programs might be bike sharing, but they certainly aren’t bike sharing programs.

A “key-sharing” program

If you need to track somebody down in order to find a key to a bike (even if it’s at your front desk or library), then you don’t have a bike-sharing program. You have a key-sharing program.  This is common for universities that got an early start with bikes but haven’t been able to keep up with the innovation curve.  It’s also very common for apartments and hotels that want to say they have a bike sharing amenity, without actually investing in technology.

Key-sharing programs create a very high barrier of entry to bike use.  Having to find someone (during limited hours), sign for the bike by hand, and talk them into giving you the key, is a huge hassle. People will only go through this trouble if they are wanting to use a bike for a long time -- think a whole day or semester. That’s not a sharing program...it’s really just a free bike rental, and it’s usually hoarded by a small group of people. Better than nothing, sure, but not effective for a whole host of use cases.

What custom bike and key-sharing programs have in common is that they aren’t automated. Not automating your bike share means you either aren’t protecting it or you’re protecting it too much. Automated bike share systems bring the perfect mix of thoughtful parameters and ease of use. With automated bike sharing programs, you can have a bike share program, well, that is.

Learn More

Want to build a successful bike share? You can learn more about how to bring bike sharing to your community here.