With the news that the NYC Citibike program is having a rough time financially, it’s important to remember that there are countless bike share programs that are wildly successful around the world. Bike sharing started in the Netherlands in 1965, but it has been a long and bumpy road toward finding a successful model for sustainable bike sharing. Paris arguably has one of the most successful programs in the world. Vélib launched in July of 2007, now with over 20,000 bicycles and 1,200 bicycle stations around Paris. What sets Paris apart from other cities’ bike sharing programs? A strong cycling culture and a sustainable system that learns from past mistakes. What can Citibike learn from more successful bike share programs like Vélib?
- Have Strong Public Outreach
Portland has made serious efforts in all of their bike share programs to include working-class and poor in their ridership campaigns. All cities need to find alternative advertising and marketing strategies to reach out to those who are not in the professional class, or simply tourists. Advertise at heavily trafficked bus stops, make it easy for people to sign up for the program at those bus stops – show them the cost of taking the bus versus riding a bike – there are so many ways to include everyone in this program, which will help make it financially sustainable.
- Make Helmets Accessible
It is imperative that these bicycles can safely accommodate almost everyone, including people who love the shape and contents of their own skulls. Helmet policies vary by location, but consider helmet rentals, or subsidies to potential local businesses to encourage use. Why can’t the falafel truck guy rent out a stack of helmets, after all?
- Develop a maintenance strategy for all weather conditions.
This ain’t Florida: one of the biggest costs of the Citibike program was winter weather (and earlier damage from Hurricane Sandy). When winter damage is unavoidable and traffic is markedly lower, keep more bicycles in storage or under covered areas to avoid ice and snow causing the usual damage: rust, tire pressure issues, and flats.
- Foster a culture of biking in your city.
Painted, dedicated bike lanes, bike maps and an app are vital for a successful bike-share program. But as many small cities have found, helmet laws can get in the way of people riding freely. What’s the best way to avoid danger? Have as many separated, dedicated bike lanes as possible, to keep the casual riders away from vehicular danger.