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Bike-Sharing: Will It Fly?

Paris, Stockholm, Vienna, Brussels, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Montreal, Lyons and even Washington, D.C. all have them with more cities on line to follow.  A concept gaining traction with urban planners is bicycle sharing.  The experience of several cities has produced enough data to show it’s popular with riders as well as another sustainable people transport strategy for cities.  Whether your city does or does not have a bicycle sharing program, however, consider one for your own property.


With vacancies up, tenant attraction and retention are an on-going challenge for most multifamily managers. Why not be the first in your neighborhood to implement a bike sharing program? Bike sharing has been used to reduce the traffic and congestion crippling the arterial infrastructure, but it can also reduce the number of cars you need to accommodate in your parking structure.


With bikes and walking back in vogue, some cities are even daring to close parts of streets to vehicle traffic with rave reviews from the public.  As the walking culture grows, bicycles can certainly be integrated into future designs that complement it.  Studies showing that greater walkability can be a key component in stimulating retail sales and a strong local economy makes for a vibrant, attractive community.


New York City joined the fray this week by closing portions of the famous Broadway theater district to all vehicle traffic. It is a pilot program intended to decommission difficult intersections and further discourage vehicle use. If it works as intended, the Mayor has telegraphed his intention to close more city streets to vehicular traffic.  New Yorkers appear to be generally ecstatic about the policy.


Certainly the balance between pedestrian walkways supported by bike-sharing may require a litmus test.  Bike-sharing may also aid these cities in creating more pedestrian-only areas that might not be as well suited to other forms of public transportation.


In 2007 Paris’s government-sponsored bike-sharing system had placed 10,600 heavy-duty models at Metro stations around the city. The City of Portland’s Transportation Department recently provided an update on their progress.


“Paris, France’s Velib system is generally considered successful. In two years, Velib’s 20,000 bicycles generated over 54 million trips. On average, Parisians and its visitors generate 74,000 bike sharing trips a day. Lyon, France’s Velo’v program (which Paris copied) is arguably more successful with an average of 22,000 trips/day on a 3,000 bike fleet – or roughly seven trips per bike per day. Barcelona’s Bicing project planners projected to gain 2,000 bike sharing members per month. After just four months, 82,000 people had joined (source: Clear Channel Outdoor). Barcelona has since doubled the size of its program to 6000 bikes.”


Adding an amenity to an existing complex is certainly not a decision to be under-taken impulsively. Usage of the shared bicycles would depend on the number of bikes initially purchased and the age of your tenants. According to studies of the existing bike sharing programs, those who range in age from 18 to 45 are the most frequent users, although octogenarians were also users.


Social implications and the common good aside, bike-sharing - like laundry facilities, parking fees and community room rentals - could potentially produce ancillary income. The program could be promoted to attract prospective tenants and it might also help retain the residents you have.  Some of them may have deluded themselves into thinking there is something better/cheaper/cooler out there.  This amenity can help set them straight.


Beyond the initial cost of the bicycles, space for a secure and covered storage area would be required.  There would be some management - like ensuring on-going maintenance gets performed or adding on an inexpensive rider for liability insurance coverage perhaps - but bicycle sharing can be implemented as a profit center.  A simple tenant survey could check whether there would be enough interest and you might even find a tenant willing to do the product research for you.

Like everything else, if you buy the cheapest bicycles, they will probably under-perform when compared to a better-constructed model.  Also, if a wide range of users is anticipated, a heavier duty model - rather than the sleekest racer - may be a better choice.


Municipal bike-sharing systems are set up with an automatic payment system that bills smart phones, uses coins and cash, and allows credit or debit cards.  A manager could use the honor system or something as simple as an electronic key card reader.  In order to open a locker for the bicycle lock keys, the tenant's card would have to be scanned like a credit card. This would be easy for record-keeping and access could be  removed the same way hotels erase and reprogram key cards as guests check out.

In the competition for tenants a free bicycle-sharing system may not fit your budget, but what about one that pays for itself or even makes a profit?


This post was authored by Elizabeth Madrigal and originally appeared on http://www.greenlandlady.com

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