Bike Sharing

Huntsville, Alabama and Pace : How Innovation Spurs Growth

By Chad Emerson, President and CEO of Downtown Huntsville

When people think of the most innovative cities in America, they probably don’t think of Huntsville, Alabama. But they should.

Huntsville was named the fastest growing technology market in the United States in 2017, with an astounding 309% year-over-year growth in technology jobs. That’s no surprise to those of us who know Huntsville’s history. The city has been a tech hub since the 1950s, when the United States government sent a group of scientists here to ignite the country’s early space program. This group eventually became NASA, which has long served as a magnet for the nation’s tech savvy and as a beacon of our innovative nature. But with fewer than 200,000 people, Huntsville can be overshadowed by tech hubs like San Francisco, Boston and Austin. We’re working hard to change that by modernizing and revitalizing our community.  

One of our most exciting new initiatives was the introduction of dockless bike share in early 2018. Bike sharing has been taking the country by storm, but we were wary of some of the well publicized backlash. We searched for a system that fit our view of ourselves as a forward-thinking city. Ultimately, we chose the Pace dockless bike share system. Pace bikes can be unlocked easily on a rider’s phone, providing a more seamless experience for our tech-savvy residents who expect nothing less from us. While it’s fairly easy for pedestrians to walk from one side of our compact downtown to the other, we saw in Pace an opportunity to introduce a transportation alternative that also augments the downtown experience. Now, residents and visitors alike have a fun new way to explore our growing city.

Data from the program shows particularly high ridership on the weekends, especially when the weather is nice. With bike share, residents and visitors can discover the historic areas of Huntsville or travel to the furthest corners of downtown with ease. For some, the program is not only used for recreational purposes, but also for an efficient, convenient way to regularly travel from point A to point B—such as from home to work each morning and home again, or to the grocery store each week. Met with overwhelmingly positive feedback, the program has successfully improved both leisure and transportation in the city.

While bike share has been welcomed in Huntsville by people of all ages, we believed the forward-thinking, sleeker design of the dockless Pace program would be especially appealing to younger riders, and we were right. We are one of many mid-sized cities hoping to get on young people’s radar because we know that attracting and retaining youthful talent is important to our community’s long-term health. Fortunately for us, young people are increasingly looking to move to mid-sized cities, citing reasons like the lower cost of living and a stronger sense of community than they find in bigger metro areas. While these factors are important, we in Huntsville understand that they’re not sufficient on their own. That’s why we’ve worked hard to offer both a happening environment as well as opportunity so young people will consider us a viable place to live and work.

Though an innovative bike share program certainly contributes to the overall vibrance of Huntsville, it’s by no means our only initiative. Two years ago, we launched a comprehensive, ongoing plan to promote neighborhood development, economic growth and the modernization of public transportation. More recently, we signed an agreement to bring 5G technology to the city, and invested millions into the airport to accommodate easier travel.

Each of these initiatives capitalizes on our existing strengths and sends the message that we are committed to long-term growth and innovation. For mid-sized cities to become appealing destination, they have to find their own ways of building on their unique strengths to communicate that they are an interesting and innovative place to live, work and play. Americans have tremendous choices about where they’d like to live. If we want them to choose our cities, we have to give them a good reason. Pace certainly helps Huntsville do that.

 



 

Zagster's Smooth Operator

By Adrian Albus, Zagster’s Vice President of Markets

A long list of things needs to go right for a shared transit system like Zagster’s to work. And while much of a system’s success stems from the people who use it, true success starts and ends with our operations department. At Zagster, we know it’s our responsibility to anticipate our rider’s needs. While many of our competitors are busy investing resources in brand awareness and rapid expansion, Zagster focuses on making sure riders have a great experience every single time they use one of our vehicles.

How do we do that? By zeroing in on the four key pillars of a successful shared transit system, a checklist that the Zagster operations team uses to run more than 250 bike share programs in 35 states: the right vehicles in the right condition in the right place at the right time.

Let’s break it down.

1.) The right vehicles

Everything starts with the vehicle. We determine the kinds of shared vehicles a program needs by conducting an exhaustive study of the place—a city, a campus, a neighborhood—the vehicles will be used. We study the width and characteristics of the streets riders would use. Are they narrow? Are there bikes lanes? Are there curb-protected boulevards? Then we look at topography. Hilly streets dictate a certain type of vehicle, while flat cityscapes mean we can use another, or consider a mix of vehicle types. Mindful of a client’s specific needs, we then determine the best fleet size and mix to roll out in that community.

2.) In the right condition

Once the vehicles are on the ground, our team then prioritizes regular maintenance to ensure the fleet is in great shape so our customers have a safe, enjoyable ride. Bad rides on Zagster vehicles are simply not an option, and we work hard to make sure all our vehicles are running smoothly.

This means the operations team has to know when bikes are damaged, improperly locked or left outside of the system area. We take this very seriously at Zagster; our team is constantly rebalancing our fleet to make sure vehicles are in the places people want them at the time they want them. And so we use this opportunity to inspect each vehicle and make sure it’s running smoothly and do the necessary maintenance required of such a fleet. This takes a lot of time and energy. But investing in safe vehicles is a no-brainer for us. Safety comes first at Zagster

3.) In the right place

We want to make sure riders find vehicles in the places they want them—our goal is to introduce mobility to the neighborhoods and people that need it most. We enter areas where people are experiencing any number of common transportation problems like traffic congestion, low access and high prices. We build a presence in the densely populated, congested downtown areas where potential for ridership is high, but we also look for opportunities to introduce transportation to areas that have been left unserved by transit options—bypassed by subways or bus routes and unserved by livery fleets.

Our rebalancing teams make sure our vehicles are in the right place at the right time. Bikes don’t always flow evenly, especially when used for commuting: a lot of bikes and scooters can end up in downtown areas after the morning commute and need to be brought back to a high-demand area by a member of our team. Our rebalancers use our internal data and analytics, collecting and analyzing figures every day to evaluate traffic patterns across our systems and to figure out how we can adjust the distribution of our fleet to make ridership even easier for our users. By actively measuring and optimizing the use of our shared vehicles, we create a reliable form of transportation that people return to again and again.

 4.) At the right time

To truly transform someone’s daily transit routine, vehicles have to be available at the right time—every time. To make this happen, our team first studies and learns the community’s current movement patterns—who goes where and when, and how do they do it? Is there a better, simpler option? We work with local transit agencies to learn peak traffic times and how use differs across existing transportation options. Our ultimate aim: identify transportation gaps and fill them with a Zagster system.

When we work with a city to launch a bike share program, we make a promise to the community around engagement, equity and safety—all the responsibility of our operations team. Especially in smaller cities, residents likely have a car and affordable parking to fall back on - meaning you only have one, maybe two chances to facilitate a positive experience with your service before they revert to these familiar options. In operations, we recognize the importance of our work knowing that only when you have an effective operations technology and process will people trust shared transit with their trip.







 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Bike Sharing

The need for innovative bike share systems has never been greater. Cities are on a mission to modernize urban mobility to keep pace with the public’s shift away from personal vehicles and toward shared, on-demand transportation. However, bike sharing’s tremendous growth and evolution — most notably the recent shift from dock-based to dockless systems — has not exactly been a smooth ride.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some cities race headfirst toward a dockless model that took China by storm: blighting streetscapes with a flood of unlocked, cheap bikes to gain market share. But as bikes began piling up, floating away, alighting on telephone poles, and blocking rights of way, cities like Dallas are beginning to question whether this model actually makes sense for American cities.

At Zagster, we’ve been in the bike share game long enough to know this model isn’t sustainable. Informed by a decade of partnering with cities and operating more than 200 bike shares across the US, we know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to bike share in America. Given it’s the start of a new year, when many cities are considering dockless bike sharing, we felt that now was a good time to share a brief list of the most common do’s and don’ts.

If this list resonates with you, be sure to get in touch to learn more about how Zagster and our new dockless network, Pace, can help your city modernize its transportation options without any of the drawbacks of first-gen dockless models.

Don’t...

Build a completely station-based system. Entirely station-based systems are inherently inflexible, require tremendous capital up front and incur enormous operating costs at taxpayer expense. While they put bike share on the map, station-based or ‘dock-based’ bike sharing systems are showing their age and stage.

Go “completely dockless.” While convenient for riders and cheap to execute, first-gen dockless models from companies without much experience in bike sharing have serious drawbacks. With no locks to ensure safe parking, completely dockless or "lockless" bike shares sprawl haphazardly across sidewalks and streets, public parks and even in trees. Second-gen models like Pace and Jump deliver on the benefits of dockless bike sharing, but without the drawbacks. (Check out our video to learn how.)

Ask for forgiveness instead of permission. While it’s easy for companies to scatter 300 bikes across a city and walk away, this approach hinders ridership and risks souring officials and policymakers on bike sharing. Eliminating the dock from bike sharing systems doesn’t eliminate the need to build great partnerships with cities and local businesses.

Do...

Lay early groundwork. To create vibrant, sustainable bike shares, providers should prime community members for the new service to ensure the bike share debuts in a favorable environment from day one. Build a teaser program. Get bike advocacy groups involved. And do a proper launch event with city officials to get things off on the right foot.

Build real partnerships. Bike share providers must engage government officials, local businesses and community members to understand and adequately address their needs, and fill any gaps in the current transportation system. All transit systems should integrate with each other, including bike share.

Stay flexible. As cities change, bike share programs should evolve as well. From installing more public bike racks, to investing in bike lanes and rider education, partnerships that can meet the changing needs of cities are essential for long term bike sharing success.

For a deeper dive on this subject, check out this recent op-ed in Route Fifty by Zagster CEO Tim Ericson.

Introducing the New and Improved Zagster Mobile App

The best part of bike sharing is riding a bike; we just made that easier.

We’re constantly upgrading our products and services to ensure our customers have the best possible bike shares. And today, we’re affirming that commitment with the launch of the Zagster mobile app version 2.0.

With additional features and a redesigned interface, the new version of the app improves the entire experience of riding with Zagster. Enhanced instructions simplify the processes of enrolling in Zagster programs and borrowing bikes, while a slick new skin streamlines navigation to make the app more intuitive and user-friendly than ever.

Users can join Zagster in seconds:

Search for and join a bike share system: 

FindABikeShare

A fast interface makes checkout a breeze:

This is the first significant overhaul of the Zagster mobile app — but it won’t be the last. And that’s a good thing!

At Zagster, we treat bike sharing as a service — not a product. We're always making iterative improvements based on user feedback and delivering regular upgrades to all our customers at no additional cost.

These updates are something that no other bike share provider does, and they are one of the main reasons why Zagster is the nationwide leader in bike sharing.

So head here to download the new app, and then get out there and ride!

Study: Bike Sharing is the Safest Way to Ride

Here’s another reason to love bike sharing: It’s incredibly safe. That’s not just our stance either, but rather the conclusion of a new study that determined bike-share systems have seen exactly zero fatalities in the United States. What’s more, the study found that bike sharing nationwide has a lower accident rate compared to traditional urban cycling. That is, riding a bike share is actually safer than riding a personal bike.

The study, from the Mineta Transportation Institute, examined three large bike-share programs in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Minneapolis. In each system, the number of collisions per ride was lower than the regional collision rate. In the most remarkable case, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare collision rate was 35 percent lower than the collision rate for traditional cycling.

Given the comparative experience of hardcore cyclists versus casual bike-share riders, that may come as a big surprise. So what’s going on here? The study proposed a few theories.

For one, bike shares typically operate in the densest urban areas where traffic is slowest, both de facto (traffic congestion) and by design (reduced speed limits.) The study specifically noted traffic speeds of 20-30 mph were reliably safe for cyclists. Moreover, drivers are at their most attentive in denser areas because of the higher rates of pedestrian activity. Understandably, more attentive drivers means safer spaces for cyclists.

Bike design also plays a role. Bike-share bikes are sturdier than average roadie wheels, with additional heft and wider tires making them exceptionally stable in urban environments where bumps and potholes are a constant threat. The beefier bike design also means slower speeds, while automatic, built-in lights — a typical feature of modern models — heightens visibility.

Then there’s a counterintuitive conclusion: Bike-share riders, despite their inexperience, are actually pretty good at riding bikes. That’s because they’re liable to know their limits and bike with extra caution compared to their more confident cycling peers, the study concludes.

Finally, there’s some evidence to suggest a “safety in numbers” phenomenon. That is, by increasing the number of bikes on the road, bike shares make biking safer for everyone. The study concludes the evidence on that front remains inconclusive, though it does not rule it out.

So there you have it. Would-be riders need not shy away from bike sharing simply because they think its dangerous. In fact, bike sharing is the safest way to ride.

From Anarchy to Order: The Evolution of Bike-Sharing

  A bike-sharing station in Beijing. China's bike share fleet is the largest in the world.    (Image: Daniel Case, via Wikimedia Commons )

A bike-sharing station in Beijing. China's bike share fleet is the largest in the world. (Image: Daniel Case, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the summer of 1965, a group of Amsterdam anarchists deposited 50 bicycles, all painted white, around the city for free public use. Known as the “White Bicycle Plan,” the scheme was bold, innovative, and creative; it was also a huge failure.

Scofflaws soon stole and vandalized the unlocked bikes. Police, unamused with the playful attempt at subversion, seized others for alleged violations. With its fleet decimated, the program collapsed, taking along with it the idea of bike-sharing.

The notion those Dutch radicals conceived lay dormant for three decades until a smattering of bike shares began to pop up, mainly in Europe, from the mid-1990s into the early 2000s. Yet growth was minimal and sporadic, with barely a handful of programs existing at the turn of the century.

Then, in 2007, the version of bike-sharing as we know it emerged.

While the Dutch were the innovators in bike-sharing, the French were the game-changers. Vélib’, Paris’ wildly successful program — it now has over 1,200 stations and averages more than 100,000 rides per day — launched in 2007 and immediately kick-started a wave of modern bike-sharing programs across the globe. China’s Hangzhou Public Bicycle, launched one year later, remains the world’s largest bike-sharing system, with more than 75,000 bikes in its fleet.

As for the U.S., Washington, D.C., in 2010, debuted what’s considered the nation’s first bike share. Other major American cities like New York City, Chicago, and Boston, soon followed suit. Between Vélib’s launch in 2007 and the end of 2012, there was a 700 percent global increase in bike-sharing services.

Yet despite that explosive growth, some still consider bike-sharing a fad. They’re wrong.

Bike-sharing isn’t growing in a vacuum, but rather alongside a shift in the way cities — and the people who live in them — view transportation. In today’s digital age, people want convenience and connectivity. Whether it’s the person who wants to take a leisurely ride, or the person who just wants to get to work on time, bike-sharing has been successful around the world at getting people from point A to point B. As a result, what began as a quirky, progressive amenity has quickly become a crucial component of multimodal transportation systems on every continent except, not surprisingly, Antarctica.

It’s no longer just progressive urbanites who use and love bike shares either. Bike-sharing has become so successful that smaller municipalities, corporate complexes, and university campuses are all now clamoring to launch their own systems. It’s a whole new wave of bike-sharing, one that’s extending the opportunities and benefits of such programs to a far wider range of communities.

That’s where Zagster comes in.

Zagster has helped hundreds of businesses, properties, and universities implement the kind of sustainable, all-inclusive bike-sharing programs that are increasingly central to the way we travel in the 21st century. And despite robust expansion, there’s still room to grow. In 2015, Zagster added nearly 2,000 bikes to the streets, and the company is set to roll out even more this year.

Many customers are already reaping the benefits of having a Zagster program, too. For instance, only a few weeks ago, the League of American Bicyclists awarded one of our customers, St. Louis-based MTM, Inc., with a Gold Bicycle Friendly Business designation.

Adding to the rosy outlook for bike-sharing, Congress is considering a bill, the Bikeshare Transit Act, that would create a federal funding source for bike shares in the U.S. Though the legislation faces long odds in Washington, it's a step in the right direction — and one Zagster wholeheartedly supports.

These are exciting times for the global bike-sharing movement. So as bike-sharing continues to grow, thrive, and evolve, Zagster will be along for the ride.

Contributed by Nick Ford

Why Bike Sharing is Taking Off in America — And Why it’s Here to Stay

LSR_3101.jpg

Bike sharing has officially entered the mainstream, with the number of bike share programs worldwide rising from a mere handful at the turn of the century to roughly 1,000 today. The U.S. is no exception to that trend either, with even more programs set to roll out this year in places from Los Angeles to Atlanta.

So what’s driving  that exponential growth stateside?  

There are a few factors. Car ownership has tapered off — and potentially plateaued — especially among young adults. An influx of infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes, has made it safer and easier than ever for urban commuters and tourists to ride in major cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. And increased educational outreach has helped tamp down fears over the rise of the supposed “all-powerful bike lobby.”

But while a dip in auto usage and a rise in bike infrastructure have certainly boosted bike shares, there’s also a fundamental factor at play — the innovation-driven growth of the sharing economy.

The latter half of the 20th century saw relatively little technological innovation in urban transportation. Yet since then, ever-faster data connections and the proliferation of smartphones have transformed the global economy and given rise to new shared mobility services like car shares, bike shares, and ride shares. Need a car for errands? There’s an app for that. Want a bike for the afternoon? You can be on one in minutes with the push of a button.

The paradigm shift has been most pronounced among tech-savvy teenagers and young adults. Less than 70 percent of 16-to-24 year-old Americans owned a driver’s license in 2013, the lowest figure in 50 years. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 say they would cut back on driving if other transportation options were available. And when given the choice of owning a smartphone or a car, those same millennials are far more likely to say they can’t part with their handheld supercomputers.

Some argue that the sharing economy is a blip born out of the Great Recession of 2008. And while it’s true the economic downturn sharply inhibited spending, there remain underlying reasons why the sharing economy continues to grow and thrive. On a base level, technological  innovation is accelerating urbanization and globalization; it is connecting us to each other, and making our world smaller. And as technological innovation pulls us together, the sharing economy’s logistical barriers continue to shrink. In that light, it makes sense why shared mobility is beginning to thrive as a serious transportation alternative.

As for bike sharing in particular, it’s a fun, low-cost tool to get from point A to point B, or to just explore a new area from a unique perspective. Such programs also offer a more convenient alternative to the hassles of owning a car — especially in a city — or relying on finicky mass transit. In many places around the country, riding a bike to work can actually be the quickest way to commute. And with more communities seeking to improve the health and well-being of their members, bike shares are an appealing way to do just that.

Bike shares allow us to harness the technology already at our fingertips to get where we’re going in a quick, easy, and affordable way. As the sharing economy keeps growing thanks to technological innovation, so too will bike sharing.

This post was contributed by Dave Reed

What Mayors Think About Bike Sharing

Mayors across the U.S. agree: improving bike accessibility in cities is a key priority. This was revealed in a recent survey of U.S. mayors, which amassed the most important challenges and goals facing mayors and their cities today. The 2015 Menino Survey of Mayors divides infrastructure goals into two categories: “big ticket” priority projects and “small” infrastructure projects. The classic big ticket areas of needed improvement were represented: mass transit, roads and water infrastructure. What topped the small project list? Improving bike accessibility. The survey, released in January by the U.S. Conference of Mayors in partnership with the Boston University Initiative on Cities, is the only nationally representative survey of U.S. mayors, with responses from 89 mayors in 31 states. As cities grow both in size and importance across the nation, the survey aims to show mayors’ perspectives on key policy issues, thus providing significant insights into trends and priorities.

According to the survey, 70 percent of mayors support improving bike accessibility in their city, even at the expense of parking and driving lanes. In fact, cycling emerged as a priority for mayors more generally with bipartisan support (albeit to varying degrees). When mayors were asked what one small infrastructure project they would fund, improving biking and pedestrian infrastructure beat out parks, roads and city building improvements.

Notably, the responses to the question concerning small infrastructure project priorities did not vary significantly by city size. At Zagster, we have been working towards expanding access to bikes in all kinds of markets including universities and smaller cities. When bike sharing first took off, it was seen as a luxury only suitable for larger cities. It is a significant step to see mayors of cities of all sizes acknowledging the benefits that access to bikes can bring.

The survey also revealed that mayors tend to generate policies by looking at a wide variety of other cities. That is certainly a victory for the bike space more generally and the bike sharing space specifically. It is tough to keep up with all of bike sharing’s success stories these days with more than 120 cities in the U.S. alone adding systems in 2015. As cities without systems watch cities that have taken the leap reduce road congestion, lower air pollution and provide additional health benefits for their citizens, it is not surprising that the desire to mimic is there.

Nonetheless, the survey revealed general concerns by cities about too little financial support from state and federal governments. Not surprisingly, funding affects the proliferation of bike sharing systems as well. But there have been some signs of improvements on at least the bike sharing front: Reps Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) recently introduced legislation to provide an established federal funding source for bike share programs. Hopefully the support of improving access to bikes voiced in this survey will help propel action both on the legislation and on other funding efforts throughout the country.

Learn More

Want to run a better bike share? Check out the free Guide to Running a Bike Share here.

Zagster’s planning, launch and operations teams are experienced in managing on-demand bike share networks. 

Get in touch with us to learn more about how we can help you in planning or implementing a bike share program.

Pass the Bikeshare Transit Act? Yes Please!

Last month, two congressional cyclists took a major step towards giving bikesharing the federal recognition it has long deserved. In a rare show of congressional bipartisanship, Reps Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) introduced legislation to provide an established federal funding source for bikeshare programs. “America is in the middle of a bikeshare revolution,” explained Blumenauer. “Removing barriers faced by new and existing bikeshare programs is important to providing choice and adding value to our existing transportation network.”

Although bikesharing has increased rapidly in the United States in the past decade—just in the last year, Zagster alone added nearly 2000 bikes (!)—the absence of established funding sources has created a “gray area,” in the words of Rep. Blumenauer, for bikeshare systems and transportation officials. In other words, since ‘bikeshare’ is not a codified term, funds that could assist with the proliferation of bikeshare systems are often earmarked elsewhere as a result of uncertainty.

Under the Bikeshare Transit Act, ‘bikesharing’ would be introduced into existing laws to allow for the use of federal transportation funds and would be listed as an eligible project under the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. This would remove both uncertainty and key barriers to the expansion of bikesharing systems across the U.S.

Not surprisingly, this development has received wide support among the bikesharing community and we here at Zagster are eagerly adding our support to the mix. In introducing the bill, Rep. Buchanan pointed out what we have long seen proven by the systems that we put in place across the country: “bikeshare programs help people stay active, promote a clean environment and are good for the economy.”

The benefits of bikeshare programs should not be underestimated. As cities across the U.S. (and across the globe) turn to bikesharing and more research on the benefits accompanies that expansion, more and more signals are pointing towards bikesharing as one of the key solutions for the future. Cities are watching their programs reduce road congestion and lower air pollution, while providing additional health benefits for their citizens.

The best part of this legislation? It underscores the importance of expanding access to biking as a regular form of transportation. This has been Zagster’s core mission from the get-go. We are taking bikesharing beyond the big cities and bringing it to universities, communities and smaller cities to make the benefits of bikesharing accessible to all.

So props to Reps Blumenauer and Buchanan. Let’s keep this rolling!

Bike sharing is NOT about bikes. Here's why...

Get your phone out of your pocket and picture this — what would life be like if you were using the same phone 4 years from now? This may seem like a very ‘millennial’ problem to have but given the rate at which technology and software is developed today, one that’s ever more likely to happen. Consumer behavior has shifted and on average, American smartphone users upgrade their devices every 22 months, according to a 2014 study by Recon Analytics. Which is precisely why Apple recognizes that with the iPhone, they are not in the smartphone business (cue Apple’s new leasing program that allows device upgrades every 12 months). The iPhone is a platform that allows Apple’s army of app developers and technology partners to create a user experience so unique that it’s customers will continue to pay money for it, even if all they do is ‘move the headphone jack to the bottom’!

The bottom line is that technology platforms are all about delivering experiences rather than technology. Bike sharing, like smartphones, will succeed when it enables changes in behavior by creating a unique and desirable user experience. Curiously though, the industry’s approach thus far has been around delivering just better hardware like bikes and kiosks. Let’s look at why this has happened.

ORIGINS OF BIKE SHARING & EARLY DEVELOPMENTS

 The White Bikes of Amsterdam

The White Bikes of Amsterdam

The concept of bike sharing has been around since 1965 when a group of Dutch anarchists distributed white bicycles around Amsterdam. Ambitious but flawed, the program collapsed within days after bikes were stolen or dumped in canals around the city. Perhaps deterred by the operational challenges experienced in Amsterdam, second and third generation bike sharing programs were centered around making incremental improvements to the hardware and software; at first, by adding coin operated kiosks to bring a sense of ‘operational normalcy’, followed by adding on-the-bike tech and mobile apps to monitor operations and prevent theft.

THE ROAD AHEAD

As bike sharing enters it’s 4th generation, success or lack thereof will be marked not by ‘intelligent bikes’ (as seen above) but by whether or not the system operator and sponsors innovate to deliver a markedly better, more modern user experience. (Read: New York City’s bike share program still experiencing issues) After all, on demand transportation services like Uber and Lyft are making it cheaper, faster and (slightly) cleaner to travel short distances…a travel pain point bike sharing solves today.

 The Smart Bike

The Smart Bike

That said, people may still choose other modes of transportation to grab a quick bite, dash to a meeting or get around town. However, our strategy to get more people biking cannot be reliant solely on manufacturing more complex gadgetry to put between their legs.. This is not a knock on manufacturers, but in the world of bike sharing the newest bike today will be yesterday’s news by the time a sponsor a) conducts a feasibility study b) goes through the RFP and c) launches a typical program…a process that can take anywhere from 12 months to 2 years!

Crucially, in order to compel users to ditch cars in favor of bikes, bike share providers will need to deliver an experience that is far superior to the Ubers and Lyfts of this world. This is only possible only if the ecosystem is able to innovate together around the entire stack of hardware (bikes, docking stations, locking technology), software (mobile apps, fleet management) and operations (maintenance, billing, customer support) and improve the entire experience for partners (cities, towns and campuses) and users (riders).

CONCLUSION

Instagram succeeded where countless other photo sharing apps like Hipstamatic, Flickr and Camerabag failed because, while Kevin Systrom and his team got a number of things right, they did one thing incredibly well…they made Instagram simple and easy to use for the everyday photographer. The old way of being able to upload and share photos online was still a radical shift from the status quo but overlooked the frustrations of the 50 year-old baby boomers that weren’t as comfortable using complex online and mobile apps.

Similarly, I believe the true adoption of bikes and bike sharing will come when the user experience of riding a bike (bikes, platforms, payment, local infrastructure) is equal to or better than the user experience of hailing a cab at the touch of a button. When we make it so easy that a user can walk up to a bike, unlock it with a single click and ride away.

Nick Atrey is a sales consultant for Zagster and fanatical bike commuter. He lives in San Francisco.

Learn More

Want to run a better bike share? Check out the free Guide to Running a Bike Share here.

Learn what you need to know about bike share operations including rebalancing, maintenance and more!

What does it take to run a bike share?

The biggest factor behind a bike share’s success is not the technology or even the bikes, it’s the people and processes that keep the system running day to day. From planning, launch, education, operations and maintenance, top-notch bike sharing programs have processes and people that ensure great rider experiences.At Zagster, our fleet team makes sure that more than 100 bike share programs across the United States are up and running for every ride.

Jeremy Jo
Jeremy Jo

We sat down with Zagster fleet manager Jeremy Jo to get the low down on what it takes to run a successful bike share.

The Share: Jeremy, welcome. Tell us a little about yourself and the role of fleet operations at Zagster.

Jeremy Jo: Thanks for having me.

Fleet operations at Zagster handles everything that has to do with keeping our bike share programs running. We make sure that there is always a supply of bikes available for riders across our locations. That means coordinating everything from maintenance, rebalancing, replacements, and winterization/storage for every bike.

I started working in the cycling industry at 15 doing sales and service for a local bike shop in California. Eventually, I moved to Boston and studied to be an engineer. Most recently I finished my Masters in Mechanical Engineering at Tufts University and also a Masters in Engineering Management at the Gordon Institute at Tufts as well.

TS: Why is an operations program important for bike sharing?

JJ: I think the best way to describe any sharing system is a supply and demand economy. You need both sides of the supply and the demand to be fulfilled to be able to have successful operations. At Zagster, our supply side is bikes and if we don't have bikes available than we can't keep up with demand which means the demand side is going to drop because riders will know that the supply just isn't there.

So it's important to operate successfully so we can make the bikes available which means that the riders can rely on bike sharing system and utilize the system as a sustainable and reliable mode of transportation.

TS: So the more riders see the bikes are in good shape, are available, are where they want to be, the more they will use them. What are the maintenance considerations that go along with bike share bikes? A lot of people ride their bikes all the time and never bring them into a mechanic.

JJ: I would say that a casual rider would use their personal bike maybe 3-4 times a month. An aggressive commuter might ride 5-10 times a week, but our bikes can see 15 or more rides per day. So you are seeing potentially 5-15x utilization with bike share bikes versus personal bikes.

Because of the level of riding, the bikes need increased attention and that means more care to understand when a part is worn out and even knowing when something is going to break so you can fix it proactively.

So frequency of service intervals is much higher and that’s where the knowledge and skill comes into play because the more efficient and more knowledgeable you are the less time you need to spend on each bike because you know what to look for.

TS: So if these bikes are being ridden a lot more than personal bikes, how often does a mechanic need to visit the system? Is this a regular thing, or just occasionally?

JJ: So this is a tough question to answer because it changes based on scale and it changes based on use. Obviously as you use the bikes more they need more service.

Adding in the operational side of things brings more complexity to the situation. I think that a great way to describe it is there are two sides to the mechanics visits or site visits in general related to bikes.

If a bike has a flat tire, that's a service visit required. The bike needs maintenance so the shifting, braking and everything is running smooth and there's air in the tires, which all falls into the maintenance category.

But then there's the rebalancing and station visit side of maintenance in that you need to make sure the bike share system is running smoothly. This is moving bikes around, reallocating and making sure all the stations have an adequate number of bikes to meet the demands and expectations of riders.

TS: There's more to operations than just having a mechanic on the ground, you someone who's proactively looking at the system and making sure it's operating correctly.

JJ: Yes, but I think there's even more than just that. There's the fleet side of things in terms of being able to address any issues that come up and working with mechanics to resolve them but there's also the support side of things.

Who does a rider go to if something goes wrong? So you need that inbound support request as well as the outbound issue dispatch.

So right now, we have someone at Zagster who does just that. Our rider services team can track a bike down, understand what needs to happen, enter it into the system, follow up with riders and generally be the first line of support. And that is probably something that we find many people don’t have with bike share programs they do on their own and often don’t have all these pieces in place to be able to support the riders.

TS: What would be your advice for communities that are looking at starting bike sharing systems right now? What are the things they should be thinking about?

JJ: I think one thing that often gets underestimated is the number of bikes required in order to have a successful bike share. Anecdotally, we have programs where there is really successful ridership but their complaint is always that there are no bikes available.

This is an artifact of a couple of things: that the operation isn't working in terms of getting the bikes to where they need to be, but more so it's that the program is successful and we don't have enough bikes on the ground.

It's that supply/demand balance. It’s important to budget the appropriate number of bikes so that it doesn't look like the program is failing when it’s really very successful.

Another thing to think about is rider education. Many people know how to ride a bike, but are inexperienced with handling a bike in an urban environment. I don't mean just riding - I mean how to ride on the road, when and where to lock it up - that whole level of rider education is something that we support is well.

Also, on the operations side we have people that really understand how to design bike share systems, who know to determine the optimal system size, if you need overflow parking and where the flow of traffic is. Just for example, on a campus we place stations to try and replicate that traffic flow because the bikes are being used as transportation and they need to be placed in order to make the system successful.

TS: So your team has really baked in these best practices all the way through the service Zagster provides. I mean, this isn't just a bike, part of the whole program is you get the knowledge of these operational best practices.

JJ: Yea, I think that bike sharing is more than just bikes. To launch a successful program there are things that you need to do that people don't even think about before they actually have the bikes on the ground. You need the buy in of the community, you need good equipment and you also need a solid operational plan in order to launch and grow a successful program.

Learn More

Want to run a better bike share? Check out the free Guide to Running a Bike Share here.

Zagster’s planning, launch and operations teams are experienced in managing on-demand bike share networks. 

Get in touch with us to learn more about how we can help you in planning or implementing a bike share program.

 

Meet Our Interns!

It is no secret that Zagster is expanding at breakneck speed. Four interns have recently joined us for the ride, so let’s get to know them with some fun questions! Duri Abdurahman Duri: Software Engineering Intern from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Studying Computer Science and Economics at Union College. Julia Zaskorski: Operations Intern from Long Island, New York. Recently graduated from Dartmouth College with a dual degree in Mechanical Engineering and a B.A. in Physics from Wellesley College. Kathrine Andersen: Finance Intern from Baerum, Norway (just outside Oslo). Studying Business Analysis and Performance Management at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH). Michelle Chan: Content & Design Intern from Silicon Valley’s Cupertino, California. Studying Psychology and Studio Art at Pomona College.

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What is a nickname your friends or family know you by?

D: Duri. J: Juj. K: Kathi M: MC.

The entire Zagster team is going on a bonding trip. What are we doing?

D: Bungee jumping. J: Ropes course. K: Vegas! M: Scuba diving.

Favorite snack in the Zagster pantry?

D: The hummus with pretty much anything. J: The V8 tomato juice. I was so happy to see those. K: The nuts! M: Fruit snacks, hands down.

What is one thing you miss about home?

D: My bed. J: I miss my two shelter dogs, Luna and Avery. K: Norwegian water. And breakfast without sugar. M: I miss the availability of (good quality) bubble tea.

Desired superpower?

D: Time travel. J: Teleporting. K: Fly. M: To not have to sleep.

What do you do the 30 minutes before you sleep?

D: Catch up with Flipboard and Twitter. J: Drink a cup of tea and read. But I’m not a grandma, I swear. K: Talk with my roommate/best friend and read news. M: Watch YouTube videos and surf for new music.

Favorite music to dance to:

D: Hip Hop. J: Top 40 Country. K: Taylor Swift. M: Electronic dance music.

You are in charge of urban planning for a new fantasyland in which you will live. Describe it in 140 characters or less.

D: Solar roadways everywhere to cut down carbon emissions and have interactive roadways. J: Majestic trees with sun rays streaming through patches. Silent, lush, and dewy. K: High mountains, fjords consisting of clear, blue water that you can drink, mango trees everywhere, huge mushrooms that you can sit on, very green and always sunny. M: Solar-powered ski lifts, zip-lines, and natural slides for transportation. Perpetual sunset, waterfalls, and hiking trails galore via oceanside cliffs.

What is one mistake or embarrassing moment you’ve had while interning here?

D: Second day here: Brad and Ted.. I confuse them. I said hi to one, walked downstairs and saw the other and was like… How did you get there? Is there a secret elevator? I had to look up who was who online. J: Telling 2 truths and a lie to the team was so hard… I got tongue-tied. So I told 3 truths. I couldn’t tell a lie! K: Yesterday, while bicycling here, I didn’t notice that my seat was wet. So.. my [pants] were wet for 5 hours yesterday. M: Sometimes terribly loud, high-pitched laughs come out of me… Like when I heard Heather curse “the bloody fruit snacks” while taking pantry inventory. That was pretty embarrassing.

What is one thing that not many people know about you, that you want people to know about you?

D: I have 145 cousins, if you include second and third cousins. J: My initials are Jay-Z! K: I don’t actually play basketball. Everyone asks me that all the time. (Editors note: Katherine is over 6 feet tall) M: Competitive swimming used to be my life! I swam against Missy Franklin before she was breaking world records. Yes, I lost.

Top 8 Summer Rides for Charity

Summer is the season to enjoy the outdoors, and what better way to do so than on a bike? Non-profit foundations nationwide are using this fun, healthy form of exercise to promote their causes. Many charity bike rides welcome cyclists of all levels and by participating, you can raise awareness and funds for social good. What are you waiting for? Grab a bike and join the ride! We’ll help you get started with our Top 8 picks for the summer:

1) Tour de Cure Location: 44 states Date: Multiple dates, but mostly late spring or summer Length: Check your state’s schedule Cause: Funds support the American Diabetes Foundation, which aims to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of those affected.

Tour de Cure takes place all over the country. Each tour has its own unique character with varying levels of difficulty, so beginners and experts alike will be able to find a ride that suits them and their schedule. Full route support is provided, including surveillance vehicles to keep you safe, bike mechanics for equipment malfunctions, and full rest stops with food and drink to keep you fueled.

2) Harpoon Point to Point Location: Vermont Date: August 8 Length: 25, 50, or 100 miles Cause: Alleviates the growing problem of hunger in Vermont. Funds raised will benefit the Vermont Food Bank, the state’s largest hunger-relief organization.

Participants may choose from one of three rides, varying in length for bikers of all levels. To date, the event has raised over $900,000 for the Vermont Food Bank! The ride ends at the Harpoon Brewery in historic Windsor, Vermont, where a fun, lively party awaits cyclists – BBQ, beer, and live music included.

3) Best Buddies Challenge Location:California, and Florida Date: September 12, or November 20, 2015 Length: 15, 30, 50, 62, or 100 miles Cause: Raises funds for Best Buddies International, a global volunteer movement that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Best Buddies Challenge takes place in multiple states and varies in length for bikers of all skill levels. Participants can create one-on-one friendships and provide employment and leadership development opportunities to those with disabilities. All rides end with a beachside celebration of their efforts, complete with gourmet food, drinks, celebrity guests, and live entertainment.

4) Get Your Guts In Gear Location: Sandusky, Ohio Date: Aug 15-16, 2015 Length: 10, 30, 62, or 100 miles Cause: Increases dialogue surrounding Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and related conditions. These multi-day cycling events benefit and support inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) organizations and patient advocacy groups.

The GYGIG Ride takes place in Ohio, providing the opportunity to connect with patients, family, and friends who are affected by Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Your ride will raise awareness and funds for the support that IBD patients need.

5) Climate Ride Location: North Atlantic, Northern California, The Midwest, Montana/Canada Date: Multiple dates Length: 200-300 miles Cause: Raises awareness for and supports sustainability, active transportation, and environmental causes.

Climate Ride is more than just a charity ride; it also hosts a Speaker Series each evening of the rides, claiming the title of “a fundraiser and green conference on wheels”. The route is challenging, but participants will learn about creating a cleaner, healthier planet and how to inspire social change along the way. The NYC-DC Ride even schedules appointments for participants to meet with their congressional representatives at the end of their ride in Washington D.C.

6) Pedal the Cause Location: Saint Louis, Missouri Date: September 26-27, 2015 Length: 18, 25, 37.5, 50, 75, 100 miles Cause: 100% of donations go to the Siteman Cancer Center and St. Louis Children’s Hospital to advance lifesaving cancer research.

In just 5 years, Pedal The Cause has raised over $9.3 million dollars for adult and pediatric cancer research projects. Riders may choose from one of six distances and also have the option of spinning. For anyone out of town or not interested in riding, they may still participate as a “Virtual Rider” to support the cause.

7) Ride to End Alzheimer’s Location: Devens, Massachusetts Date: July 18, 2015 Length: Family Ride, 30, 62, 100 miles Cause: 90% of money raised by RIDE participants fund RIDE grants awarded through the Association's research grants program. 10% of the proceeds stay in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to fund programs and services that assist families affected by Alzheimer's disease.

This family-friendly event features rides that everyone can participate in. By riding, you will play a crucial role in supporting research that advances understanding of Alzheimer's disease and potential treatment strategies.

8) Bike MS Location: Locations nationwide Date: Multiple dates, but mostly summer and early fall Length: Varies widely Cause: Benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and its programs, services, and research.

The National MS Society holds an array of fundraising events including cycling, walking, and a mud-filled obstacle course. Bike MS rides take place all over the country and provide an invigorating challenge for those wanting to make a real impact in the MS community.

With options like these, there's no excuse not to give back. So, harness your pedal power for good, and hop on two wheels for any of these fantastic causes!

Image Courtesy of WestportNOW

Bike Sharing Enjoys Hockey Stick Curve

Anyone whose ever pitched a new business or product idea knows the image that funders want to see is the fabled "hockey stick."

The need to see growth that goes from relatively flat to relatively straight up, preferably in as short a time as possible. Take a look at the latest graph of the global bike sharing market (above). At the end of last year, there were 844 cities with bike sharing, up from 703 the year prior, and astonishingly, up from only 11 in 2004. And yet, we're still at the leading edge of this industry. New bike sharing models, like Zagster, are enabling even smaller cities to launch bike sharing programs. New technology platforms are enabling peer-peer models for bike sharing. And increasingly, cities like Philadelphia and universities like The Ohio State University are making accessibility to all a priority for programs.

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We'll check back in this time next year and see how the chart is looking -- but we're pretty sure its going to be just as steep.

A Bicycle Snow Plow

With many parts of the country hit hard by snowstorms during the past few weeks, many people assume that bike riders are impacted the worst. We beg to differ. We have Zagster members in some of the coldest, snowiest climes in the US -- from Cleveland to Detroit to Boston.

The snow hasn't stopped them.

While we're proud of our members, we couldn't let this video pass by the blog without a shout out. Wesley Trout of Shifting Gears demonstrates for us a bike-mounted snowplow that he's developed and is putting to good use in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Keep up the great work Wesley -- look forward to seeing your plows on the roads here in Boston!

Bike Sharing Associated with Fewer Accidents

Bike-sharing sharing options have expanded at a lightning pace across the United States, and one of the most common questions is whether more people get hurt as more bikes hit the road. We always encourage a look at the data whenever possible, and in this case there is quite a bit of data available.

This summer the New York Times reported that after seven years of bike sharing programs in cities across the U.S and 23 million rides there have been no fatal accidents among bike share riders.

Even the rate of accidents (with our without injuries) was astonishingly low: 10.5 crashes per 1 million trips.

Another recent study that has been heavily cited looked at head injuries and the rise of bike share programs. Many reports erroneously conclude that this research showed bike share programs were followed by an increase in head injuries.

In fact, the study showed that the number of all injuries in cities that implemented bike share declined by 28 percent. Head injuries declined by 14 percent.

CityLab also has a great article on this study, including some possible reasons for the decline in injuries associated with bike sharing program. Among our favorite reasons is that more bike riders on the road encourages everybody, riders and drivers, to be more aware, and thus safer.

At Zagster we always recommend using a helmet, be safe, stay visible to traffic and have fun!

Global Bike Sharing Market to be $6.3 Billion (with a B) Market by 2020

New research from global consulting firm Roland Berger projects that the global market for bike sharing could reach $6.1 billion dollars by 2020.

Fueled by increasing consumer demand, technology enhancements, corporate interest and a growing body of evidence that shows these systems are safe and sustainable, bike sharing is here to stay.  When we first saw Paris' Velib system in 2007, we were hooked.

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We've been spending every day since that time working to bring bike sharing -- and really bike riding -- around the globe. In much the same way that car sharing, launched by Zipcar in 2000, went from a niche idea to mainstream, we are seeing the bike sharing industry move from a fringe idea to a "must have" for cities.  Evolution within the industry is happening -- with more options for providers to the big city programs, to new options (like Zagster) for private communities such as real estate, corporate and university campuses, and even peer-peer technologies to let people share their own bikes.

Looking forward to a great 2015!

Image Credit: Consultancy.UK