Need Economic Stimulus? Try Bikeshare.
Summary: Bikesharing is often considered only for its environmental benefits and congestion reduction, but data is beginning to reveal that it also provides an economic punch. The added bicycle infrastructure and increased bicycle traffic that accompanies bikeshare is shown to promote local commerce. Bicycles can access local stores more easily than their gasoline powered counterparts, and cyclists have more disposable income due to reduced automobile upkeep. Increased bicycle friendliness improves livability and quality of life, which attracts young entrepreneurs and provides an added edge for companies trying to recruit the best talent.
Bikesharing is often discussed in terms of being environmentally friendly and a “feel good” addition to communities, without much of a foundation in practical, quantifiable returns. However, data is beginning to show that the increase in bicycle infrastructure and ridership associated with bikeshare programs has a very direct, positive economic impact. In fact, data has shown such a strong connection between improved bicycle access and economic growth that there’s an emerging trend of Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts (BFBDs), where bicycles are integrated into a district’s operations, events and promotions (Emerging Trend: Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts). This economic stimulus occurs in several ways: (1) by diverting customers to local businesses; (2) leaving potential customers with more cash in their pockets; and (3) by providing incentives for young, tech-savvy employees to relocate to areas.
One of the best ways to improve local economies is to deliver paying customers. Bicycles are an ideal way to do this because they make it easy for commuters to make quick, frequent stops. Parking a bicycle is far easier than parking an automobile. In Manhattan, where a protected bicycle lane was added on 9th Avenue, “local businesses saw a 49% increase in retail sales. In comparison, local businesses throughout Manhattan only saw a 3% increase in retail sales” (How Bike Lanes can Boost the Economy). Increased bicycle usage in areas also has secondary effects by ensuring “a steady flow of people through a space even after dark, keeping ‘eyes on the street’ and making other constructive after-hours uses more likely,” extending peak business hours and increasing bicycle and pedestrian traffic (Project for Public Spaces | Three Reasons That Bikeshare Stations …). Respondents to a Capital Bikeshare study found that nearly two-thirds of respondents would not have made their trips without the bikeshare program because it was too far to walk, bringing in customers who would have otherwise stayed away (2011-2012 Capital Bikeshare Member Survey).
Getting people to places of business is important, but it’s also vital that they arrive with disposable cash in their pocket, and few transit modes can compete with bikeshare on cost. In Minnesota, users of the city’s Nice Ride bikeshare system spent, on average, an extra $1.29 per week because of the program. Extrapolating this out to the entire population of Nice Ride subscribers would generate an additional $150,000 over the season, and the system continues to grow in popularity (Catalyst July 2012: Nice Ride spurs spending near stations). A study by Alison Lee at the University of Melbourne found that cycling generates 3.6 times more expenditure than driving. Car users spent, on average, more per hour than bicyclists, but the small area of public space required for bike parking suggests that each square meter allocated to bike parking generates $31 per hour, compared to $6 generated for each square meter of automobile parking space (economic contribution of cyclists compared). Capital Bikeshare riders were found to save an average of $15.75 per week on personal transportation costs. Across the estimated 18,000 Capital Bikeshare members back in 2011, this is a collective savings of $15 million (2011-2012 Capital Bikeshare Member Survey). Money that would be spent on automobile ownership is now being spent on local businesses. Erik Kugler, the owner of Bicycle Space has noticed an increase in local spending as a direct result of Capital Bikeshare, noting “money becomes available for the local economy. You see new restaurants open up, cafes, niche shops, and small businesses like ours. We employ 18 people here” (D.C.’s Bikeshare Program a Boon to Local Stores).
Economic progress is also accelerated by attracting high quality, well-educated talent, and improved bicycle access has been shown to drive young, well qualified professionals to an area. Good biking opportunities are important to tech-savvy 25-35 year olds, who represent the “creative class” sought by high-tech firms and startups. Recently, “thirty-three executives at New York high-tech companies—including Foursquare, Meetup and Tumblr—urged Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year to ‘support a bikeshare system as a way to attract and retain the investment and talent for New York City to remain competitive in the fast growing digital media and internet-oriented economy’” (Bikes Boost Economic Opportunities in Your Town). This drive for talent growth is seen elsewhere as well. Eric Matthews, CEO of new business initiative Launch Memphis, he notes, ‘Biking correlates with entrepreneurs.’” Dr. Steven Bares, President of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, an initiative to bring emerging health companies to Memphis agrees, feeling that “the bike is part of the overall strategy to compete for talent.” In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel explained, ”One of the things that employees look at today is the quality of life and quality of transportation because of the ease that comes with it” (Bikes Boost Economic Opportunities in Your Town). And the importance of improved bicycle infrastructure and ridership is an issue gaining favor not just on the liberal side of the political spectrum, but on the conservative side as well. Indianapolis’ republican mayor Greg Ballard recently spoke about improving the city’s bike culture in an interview saying, “it’s about talent attraction and business attraction, and you need to know the trends that are coming forward now. So when you look at what young people are looking for, when you look at businesses who want to hire those people, you have to create that kind of city, and that’s really what we’re trying to do” (A Conversation With Greg Ballard).
Bikeshare remains in its infancy, with many programs still gaining traction. The full economic potential has yet to be realized. City planners and decision makers can draw a clearer picture as more data becomes available, but initial findings show a lot of promise. What’s easy to understand already is that bikesharing has the potential to change how cities function. Bikeshare can drive better bicycle infrastructure that makes bicycling appealing for everyone, benefiting personal bicyclists and bikeshare riders alike. Doing so also fosters a sense of community and an investment in the local economy. The low cost of bikeshare programs compared to other mass transit solutions, combined with its potential for economic improvement, make bikeshare hard to ignore in today’s economic climate.
viaCycle@GT: viaCycle video awesomeness
Here at viaCycle, we think biking is pretty awesome. When others think so too, we get excited. That’s why we want to give a huge shoutout to Christine and Caitlin, two Tech students who took the time to make a rocking video on viaCycle for Georgia Tech Auxiliary Services:
Check it out to see what viaCycle@GT has to offer (note: the GT website is actually gt.viacycle.com), and if you see Christine or Caitlin on campus, give them a high five. Thanks girls!
Do you have a viaCycle experience you can share? Let us know! We welcome all pictures, stories, choreographed mime dances… you name it, and we want to hear about it.
Don’t Overpay for the Most Affordable Transit Solution: Part 2
Here’s a closer look at how viaCycle is able to reduce bike sharing costs. Large stations can cost as much as $52,000, and that’s before any bikes have been added. This capital expenditure is exactly what spurred us as engineers to rethink the model. Transportation systems can be made better and less expensive. Let’s make the bikes smart, not the kiosk. Thanks to mobile technology, wireless communications and GPS are easily available and compact. As mechanical engineers we can design a robust, theft-resistant lock. We made the move to transfer much of the traditional infrastructure into the cloud; where all our data and operations are managed. The result is the ability to deploy bike shares of equivalent size for 1/3 the cost. Or better yet, even larger, more expansive systems to transport more people for the same cost.
Let’s illustrate with an example. Capital Bikeshare initially began with a small implementation of 15 stations and 117 bicycles with a price tag of $556,965 plus an additional $83,265 to install the stations. An equivalent program by viaCycle would have cost Washington D.C. $175,500 in hardware on the ground. Or, viaCycle could have implemented a program with nearly 430 bicycles for the same price as Capital Bikeshare. More bikes, in more places, for more people. And this was just an initial phase, as Capital Bikeshare will soon grow to 288 stations.
There are numerous costs associated with a kiosk installation. The following chart compares the costs of existing programs versus viaCycle:
That’s the power of moving physical hardware to a cloud-based system. All the functionality of existing programs is still available, with added benefits. Bicycles can be locked up anywhere, relieving riders of the necessity to arrive at a station just to lock the bicycles up. Distribution and reliable check out points can be maintained by GPS control. Seasonal shifts in usage can be easily adjusted for. More stations or bikes can be added for special events with almost no lead time. Most importantly, cities and university can operate the most effective transportation network at a minimum of expense.
Don’t Overpay for the Most Affordable Transit Solution: Part 1
As an industry, bicycle sharing has experienced over 50% growth every year since 2005. There are now almost 200 modern bike sharing programs in major metropolitan areas with over 100 North American universities operating their own programs. Existing systems have outperformed expectations, and many are even operating at a profit despite armies of naysayers and pushback. However, despite the expanding scale and extent of bike sharing, current systems could be greatly improved.
Existing programs treat bike sharing as a big-city problem, approaching it with big-city solutions. Bike sharing has become far more expensive and inflexible than it needs to be. There is just too much red tape, too much infrastructure, and too much wasted money. viaCycle sees the problem and strives to make bike sharing smoother, more seamless, and more flexible than existing programs while cutting costs by over 60%. The key is in taking advantage of cutting-edge mobile and wireless technology to remove the need for heavy equipment.
So what is wrong with the infrastructure that makes it so expensive? Kiosks! Existing systems rely on specialized bike docks to secure their bikes. One of these stations can cost as much as $52,000, and this doesn’t even include the bikes. Programs start with six figure price tags and easily escalate into millions of dollars in capital costs. These systems rely on scale and are not well suited to smaller customers. On the other end of the spectrum, viaCycle works just as well with 10 bikes as with 10,000 bikes.
Kiosks also have limited flexibility, costing as much as $2,000 to move a single station. viaCycle takes the kiosks off the sidewalks and puts all that functionality on each bike. Not only is installing and moving kiosks expensive, but it can also be a time consuming process. Since custom infrastructure is being installed on public property, permit and zoning issues can occur. Furthermore, these specialized stations serve a very specific purpose: securing a particular bike belonging to a particular vendor. Smart-bikes are the solution that make bike sharing better. Issues with flexibility and adaptability can also be addressed by making each bike its own stand-alone unit. viaCycle’s integrated lock allows each bike to be secured to any bike rack already being used for regular bikes. Moving stations can be done on-the-fly and in real-time for virtually no cost.
viaCycle is a significant step forward in the realm of bicycle sharing because it is a significant step forward in the realm of mobile tracking technology. We’re reinventing bicycle sharing by integrating cloud-enabled wireless devices with physical hardware. However, we don’t want to stop there, because our platform can easily translate to other modes of transportation. Starting with bikes, viaCycle is redefining the way in which people stay mobile.
In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at the numbers and show why there is such a disparity between the costs.
viaCycle has officially launched! Okay, we’ve been launched for a while, but now we can say we are a Y-Combinator backed company. Check out the TechCrunch article. We’ve had our heads down this summer working on a new hardware iteration and expanding our software, and are excited to get back out there and help bring cheap, clean, and easy mobility to your neck of the woods.
@GT: Join us for a Pint this Friday!
Happy summer from viaCycle! As a thank you to all the users trying to beat the heat on campus this summer, we will be hosting a little shindig this Friday the 13th.
Meet other viaCycle users, chat with Sid and some of the viaCycle staff, and have a drink on us!
Tell us what you like (and dislike) about viaCycle and how we can serve you better. And if you happen to ride a viaCycle to the event, just let us know and we’ll make sure your ride is free!
Location: Cypress Street Pint & Plate (6th and Cypress)
Time: 4:00 PM - 7:00PM, July 13th
Hope to see you there.
@GT: Reduced Prices, More Locations, New Fresh Scent!
We’re significantly lowering our fees! Prime customers can now check out bikes for free for up to two hours. Standard users will only pay $1.95 for the same time. The new rates offer up to a 60% reduction in price. Check out the new pricing plan.
New bike locations
Three new locations (see the map) are available for use or will be shortly:
1. Clough Commons (CULC) on the 4th Street side
2. East Campus between Glenn and Cloudman Halls.
3. Graduate Living Center (GLC) on 10th Street (Coming Soon)
New signage is finally here!
We have received numerous feedback comments suggesting we add signage to the viaCycle locations, and we couldn’t agree more. Look for signs like the one shown here to identify a viaCycle location. There are also reminders for how to unlock a bike and a handy map in case you’re wondering where to head next.
LED indicator and what it means
We’ve added decals to the bikes that explain what different colors on the LED mean. Here’s a quick rundown:
Green - Ready / Available
Yellow - Reserved
Red - In use
Off – Asleep or offline for maintenance
We’ve heard that the yellow LED can be a bit hard to differentiate in some conditions, but it gets easier once you’ve seen it. Depending on the time of day and individual bike, it may be more of an orange or light-green. If the bike is available, the LED will be a full, rich green.
@GT: More Bikes, More Upgrades, More Awesome
Greetings to a new year and a new semester. We have so many things to discuss, but we’ll try to keep it short! There are some important updates so please read:
Pricing: Introducing Prime, viaCycle to class, and other changes
For our regular users we recommend viaCycle Prime, with the first 30 minutes free and other perks It costs $8.95/month (taxes included), and you can cancel anytime. The standard pre-paid plan is still available for those who prefer it. There are other changes too. We have reduced rates for rental up to 1.5 hours so you can take viaCycle to class. Please note that 30 minute rentals now cost slightly more at 45 cents. For all details, please see our pricing page.
More bikes, now with front and rear lights
Ten more bikes will be added this week, with even more coming online by the end of February. Most bikes have now been outfitted with lights, with the remaining ones to be retrofitted in the near future. If you are checking out a bike at night, please make sure it has the lights installed!
More central Tech Square location
The viaCycle location at the College of management is moving to a more central location next to the main entrance to Barnes & Noble, at the intersection of 5th Street and Spring Street. These are the pi-shaped racks!
Changes to signup, credit card now required
New users are now required to enter valid credit card information, though you won’t be charged anything for the standard prepaid membership. We’d also like to remind existing users of the minimum balance requirement. Once your promotional balance drops below $10, you will need to provide a valid credit card to keep using viaCycle@GT. The minimum balance only applies to the promotional balance, and will not be enforced once you have entered your credit card info.
Still a pilot program, we need your participation
Please keep in mind this is only a pilot program, so while we hope to provide viaCycle@GT beyond the Spring semester, it is only planned to run through the end of it. However, your participation and interest in this program can help us keep it on campus! We would like to remind you however, that if the program ends, the balance on your account cannot be reimbursed, so if you are on the standard prepaid plan, add only as much balance as you plan to use. Prime members need not worry, we will cancel their subscriptions in the event of discontinuation.
We hope viaCycle@GT has made your time on campus a little less strenuous. We’re working hard to make improvements with more expansions and upgrades on their way. Let us know what you like and don’t like by sending us feedback.
We’re happy to announce our official launch for the viaCycle@GT program! We’ve been working hard to get the kinks ironed out, and understand many of you are excited to start using the program. Here’s a little bit about what you can expect as we roll it out.
There are currently 10 bicycles in the fleet. We will gradually add more bicycles as we assembly and test them. We’re also starting with a small fleet so we can carefully manage issues that may arise early on. We have thoroughly tested our hardware, but with all new technology there is the possibility of quirks. We appreciate your understanding should issues arise, and would like you to work with us to make this program a success.
Our bicycles can be locked even if there are problems or the bike has no power, so you will always be able to secure them. If you do encounter a problem with a bicycle, lock it up in a secure location and notify us of the problem and location of the bicycle at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 678-256-BIKE, press 3 on the main menu and leave a message. We will respond as quickly as possible. If you find the bicycle damaged or not usable, please notify us as well.
As Georgia Tech students and alumni, we’re excited to bring this program to our campus and home. We hope you find the system useful and look forward to working with you to make Georgia Tech a more livable community.
The viaCycle team continues to make strides towards Beta testing the first of our bicycles on the campus of Georgia Tech. We’re excited to have people take our bikes out for a spin.
All the team members of viaCycle, Inc. have sharpened their teeth at some of the most rigorous engineering colleges in the country (the world?), and we’re no strangers to late nights in the library staring distantly into our textbooks. Despite all that schooling, the volume of things that must be learned to bring something like viaCycle to the market has been tremendous.
We’ve all wired our own circuits in Electrical Engineering 101, but they never tea you how to deal with international suppliers, how the surface treatment of circuit boards can reduce shelf life, or just how unbelievably small some of these components have gotten. We have to solder how many of those onto the board?
It gives you a humbling realization of just how sophisticated the devices we take for granted are. Most of us now carry smart phones packed with technology that researchers spent decades perfecting and engineers spent years designing, shrinking, and developing ways to mass produce with a minimum of defects. Almost everything we purchase has been through numerous similar iterations. It’s worthwhile to take a moment and consider the incredible effort it took to provide us with our modern daily conveniences.
So where does that put us? Well, we’re getting ready to release our viaCycle@GT Beta soon. We are performing final assembly on bicycles, getting circuit boards printed, and putting finishing touches on our online user interface. All the while we’re finding ways to improve our design. We could, theoretically, keep improving with an infinite number of design iterations, but at some point you have just got to put something in the real world to see how it will really preform. We’re excited and perhaps a little nervous.
Regardless, the information our Beta will provide us will ensure future iterations will be all the better. Keep tuned in for more updates as we release viaCycle@GT Beta onto the wild streets of Georgia Tech!