Since 2007, after the launch of a large-scale public bikesharing system in Paris and its success, bike sharing programs have been spread around the globe as a new trend of public transportation. These programs appeared in the continental Europe as a public way to promote the use of more sustainable means of transport, but the question is: are they as useful as they appear to be? Moreover, are there better alternatives to boost and improve the quality of bike network or biker experience?
Every new urban mobility system is an additional option in a bunch of already established means of transport and has to justify its utility, investment and maintenance costs. This situation is specifically important for public transport systems as they normally go with public subsidies or private sponsorships.
Bikesharing systems: financial evaluation
When it comes to financials, the investment in bike sharing systems is remarkable, especially if it is compared to the demand that it can satisfy per station.
Referring to the first case of Barcelona’s public bike sharing system, operative since March 2007, the global initial budget was 15.9 million Euros for 6,000 bikes, 400 stations and logistic transportation to move bikes from one station to another. Adding to this, the figure increases with maintenance and staff costs, reaching 18 million Euros per year.
In conclusion, since its inauguration, the municipality has spent around 144 million Euros. Moreover, if the cost of maintenance of each bike per year is included, the cost is between 2000 to 3000 Euros. The same is the case in the city of Seville, both cities being in the list of the 20 most bicycle-friendly cities of the world.
Bikesharing systems: cost-effective solutions
Considering these figures, the implementation cost for these kinds of systems is high when compared to other alternatives like extending the existing bike infrastructure with more kilometers, which would mean up to 225 extra kilometers per year in the Barcelona case using the same budget. The same idea could be applied to calming street programs for a better and more friendly neighborhood.
For instance, a subway system costs far more than a bike sharing system, but the comparison between the demand that can satisfy each one of the system is substantially different.
A subway system is the prime example of massive public transportation system, for example, at peak-hour L1 Metro Santiago W-E direction amounts to 60,000 pax per hour. Santiago (and mainly in the rest of the cities) Metro represents 22 percent of labor commutes and bike only 5 percent (mainly private bikes). Furthermore, both measures help citizens, but Metro positive externalities are remarkably higher in terms of quantity and global impact. In the Barcelona case, they need more or less the same rate of subsidy as Metro or Bus.
For the same budget, another option could be giving subsidies to create buying incentives for high-standard bicycles or even electric bicycles. For example, in the Barcelona case, currently the bike sharing system has 6,000 bikes. Only with the maintenance costs, the municipality could distribute between 40,000 to 60,000 high-standard bicycles for free to its citizens (considering the estimated bike price: 300 Euros).
Indeed, Barcelona had the option of buying either 320,000 high-standard bikes or building up to 1800 kms of on-street bike lanes since 2007 with exactly the same amount of money.
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Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.