“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”
John F. Kennedy
If there is anything we’ve learned in the past year, it’s that pedal bikes are important. Cities, universities, and private properties who lost their bike share programs during the pandemic are increasingly searching for new solutions. But why? What is the appeal of pedal-powered bicycles in an era where electric vehicles - scooters, bikes, one wheels, and the like - are increasingly more accessible?
SHARED MOBILITY GOALS
Many of the original motivations behind pedal bike share programs may be more relevant than ever as we look to encourage healthy communities, environmental stewardship, social recreation, and alternative transit. E-mobility has filled gaps in the total transportation solution and has provided service to even more user demographics, and yet pedal bikes still remain a priority with city leadership and the people they serve. Cities and universities are increasingly budgeting for the shared amenity, opting for affordable customizable solutions for their unique communities.
BIKE SHARING - BACK TO BASICS
The bike sharing industry started off with paid, station-based bike share. Venture capital funding entered the picture and, combined with dockless technology, launched a business model that allowed for “free” bike share. Operators took the risk on rider revenue creating profitable programs and cities enjoyed a hands-off mobility solution for their communities. This failed in all but the most dense urban cities because ridership alone was not able to fully subsidize programs. The dockless fallout began with operators leaving cities en masse.
But this harsh lesson in free, dockless bike sharing doesn’t mean bike share itself failed. In fact it seems to have created more awareness and demand for programs in cities large and small. What surfaced is that bike share needs to be subsidized, just like any other transit system. The good news is that there are some creative ways to get there with public/private partnerships, title sponsorships, and hybrid business models where the risk is split between cities and operators.
WHAT DO CITIES EXPECT WITH BIKE SHARING TODAY?
Pedal bike share is just one piece of larger multi-modal solutions - ideally with e-mobility, transit, and other shared modes augmenting each other in an interconnected network aligned with evolving community transportation demands.
Cities are more informed and are (rightfully so) leading the charge. They’ve experienced the dockless bike share revolution and understand that a “free” business model won’t work everywhere. After investing many months - and often years - into planning for the introduction of a shared mobility program, cities need to have some control over its implementation and sustainability. Conversations with operators evolved from “what can we get for free” to “how can we work together to create a truly impactful program in our community”.
Expectations around program adoption have also evolved. Mode shift can be one indicator of success, and the reality is that behavior change isn’t going to happen overnight. By increasing access to new modes while prioritizing education, encouragement, and infrastructure projects - to name just a few - bike sharing can affect real change in the way individuals move around their communities. Again, cities recognize the importance of a true partnership in bike sharing. It’s about being strategic, proactive, and engaged with the needs of residents and visitors to create programs that make sense for the area. Practically speaking, bike shares may launch with a heavy recreational focus, providing a proof of concept for the community. Over time, measured expansion to serve other specific use cases is often very successful.
Pedal bikes are pretty straightforward. What you see is what you get. Bikes are culturally well accepted and well understood, and the familiarity of pedal bikes appeals to riders of all ages. Anyone who’s ridden a bike (and even those who are learning for the first time) find comfort in the simplicity of a pedal bike.
The ability to maintain a bike is also pretty straightforward. Yes, components and frames have evolved and yes there are plenty of nuances when it comes to evaluating and repairing all the moving pieces. Yet every good mechanic and many casual bike owners are well trained in basic bike maintenance and can apply baseline knowledge to the pedal bike’s evolution over time. Investing in pedal bikes - whether as a personal hobby or in a community’s shared bike program - ensures access to a predictable and timeless mode of transportation.
Pedal bike share programs can be inherently more inclusive than other micro-mobility solutions as programs are typically subsidized and intended to increase transportation choice where gaps exist in the overall transit network. When reliance on user fees is reduced and subsidy is in place (whether by sponsorship, municipal or university budget allocation, or similar), cities can get creative in station and vehicle placement to best serve particular demographics and geographic regions, rather than revenue being the sole driver behind system design. Furthermore, the evolution of bike share as discussed previously has created much stronger public-private partnerships. These partnerships are enabling diverse groups to work on improving bike share together and, more importantly, are leading to additional collaboration on items far beyond the bike.
HOW ARE CITIES DESIGNING & FUNDING BIKE SHARES?
For many small and medium-sized cities in summer 2021, it’s all about getting people outside and promoting community engagement again. Transit goals with dreams of reduced congestion are still driving the larger mobility vision, with bike sharing having a key place in it. However cities are increasingly recognizing that there's no reason to delay implementation. Start now. Start small and grow the footprint. Just get people on bikes. Many of Tandem Mobility’s partners are building programs around regional trail networks and are joining communities under a cohesive software umbrella for ease of connectivity.
Cities also understand the importance of subsidizing bike share; funding guarantees consistent and reliable service and allows the contract holder and operator to work together, designing the bike share network around specific goals. Budgets are rebounding from the 2020 squeeze and stakeholders are getting creative in pulling together local resources to launch and grow their programs. Sponsorship is a key component of bike share funding, and student & residential housing fees may also be leveraged. Rider pricing and memberships may be structured in a way that incentivizes local use with reduced fares, while additional program revenue may be generated via standard use rates.
At Tandem Mobility we are getting creative in how we support cities with a-la-carte bike share options, augmenting local efforts where gaps exist. Maybe a city owns hardware and just needs to outsource maintenance, rider services, and liability insurance to an experienced operator, for example. We can help with that.
TANDEM MOBILITY & BIKE SHARING
With a focus on what we do well - shared mobility launch planning & operations - and partnering with key players in the industry, we bring our customers the complete package of industry-best offerings from software to hardware to operations and everything in between.
We are proud to offer complete mobility solutions with the ability to provide multiple vehicle types within a single software program. Our partners enjoy easily upgrading, swapping modes, etc. without disrupting the rider experience.
Tandem also has immediate access to pedal bike inventory and can source and operate anything with a bluetooth lock, including bike and kayak lockers.
What is unique about our business model? We can support communities of all sizes, providing affordable and creative options for any budget. Free e-mobility isn’t an option for many cities, and our model was created specifically in response to the very real needs of small and medium sized communities. We prioritize true collaboration with our partner cities, non-profits, and private institutions from design to launch and ongoing operations, working in tandem with the communities we serve.
PEDAL BIKES ARE HERE TO STAY
Bike sharing is one piece of a collective vision that enables communities to hit their goals on important items like reducing congestion, providing reliable transportation alternatives, improving accessibility and equitable access to transit, and encouraging healthy and vibrant communities.
For many reasons - familiarity, carbon offset, convenience, affordability, and smiles for miles - pedal bikes are here for the long haul.