Editor’s comment: Calculating the environmental and economic potential of bike share programs

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A new report from Cincinnati’s RedBike hire scheme has further brought to light the social, environmental and economic benefits associated with bike share schemes.

Released yesterday, the document details how in year one the scheme’s users cycled the diameter of the globe 37 times in total, but it’s the environmental savings that make the stats remarkable. In doing that mileage (and assuming the riders would otherwise have taken to motorised transport), the scheme saved 335,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. redbike

The RedBike scheme, which rolls on bikes supplied by Trek, began with 29 stations and added a further 21, some 70% growth, in June 2015. 17,683 people hired the RedBikes a total of 116,739 times.

To put things in perspective, Cincinnati’s scheme, though both profitable and clearly acknowledged by the district as paying off, is small in the bigger picture of global hire schemes. London, for example, has 839 docking stations and 13,600 bikes. In May 2016, 1,013,666 people used the Santander-sponsored scheme, a spike on the prior month’s 763,308 and one attributed largely to the opening of safe and segregated infrastructure opening in the UK capital. (It certainly wasn’t the weather causing the spike…)

So, using Cincinnati’s calculations as a guide, what might London’s scheme save in Co2?

In May 2015, (a month prior to the expansion) 10,314 people hired a RedBike, a slightly above average hire figure as far as the records go. A crude calculation, working on the assumption that these often range restricted rides were roughly the same length, suggests that for each hire, approximately 2.86 pounds of Co2 was saved from entering the atmosphere.

The same workings for London for the month of May alone, would equate to 2,899,084 pounds of Co2 saved. Upscale this to the annual figure, some 9,924,427 hires in the year to May 2016, and the pollution savings are gargantuan – 28,383,861 pounds of Co2 removed from London’s air in 12 months.

Given the belief of experts that we’re not told the london hirefull story on air pollution, the social and economic case for encouraging active travel as a means to lower pollution is growing rapidly.

The Vélib Scheme in Paris is among Europe’s largest, with over 20,000 hire bikes available to citizens and tourists. In terms of market penetration it has one of the highest, offering 1 bike per 97 citizens. In 2014, the average daily ridership of Vélib sat at around 108,090 and by its sixth anniversary, 173 million journeys took place in 12 months. If Cincinnati’s stats are to be believed and our maths correct, that’s 484,400,000 pounds of C02 a year saving to Paris. Pair that with the French capital’s newly announced ban on pre-1997 cars and the removal of Diesel cars entirely by 2020 and Paris is beginning to shape up on air quality. Car-free day, as exercised near globally on differing scales, proves the impact of such decisions, with 40% lower levels of nitrogen dioxide evident in some areas.

Out east, Asia has the world’s largest number of share bikes, with 350,000 and growing in China alone. With a poor record on air quality and an increasingly tough stance on electric bike use, the continent perhaps stands to gain the most from increased cycling.

Back to America and RedBike’s annual fuel saving was calculated at 18,000 gallons, while in the first calendar year (again, largely prior to the expansion) users burned 11.5 million worth of calories. That’s the same as 3,329 pounds of weight loss.

Again, these figures can be scaled to usage levels and with the World Health Organisation recommending active travel, decision makers should be whipping out the calculators. With Diabetes affecting as many as 1 in 11 adults, a figure that’s quadrupled since 1980, the case for both bike share and safe infrastructure is highlighted no better than in London’s latest stats.

Why is the investment worth it for urban landscapes and particularly those with little to offer in the way of active leisure? A survey of 1,400 users showed that 74% of Cincinnati’s riders took to bikes either less than once a month, or never, prior to the scheme. That’s a trend echoed in much of the US, among other low modal share regions.

Why are we talking up bike share on a site designed to drive bicycle business? Of those 1,400 surveyed, 55 people have gone on to buy a bike of their own and 48% don’t yet own a bike. The potential for the local bike shop is huge. Far be it for us to suggest some guerilla marketing at docking stations…

As demonstrated in Randers, Denmark, trials of shared electric bikes prompted 21% of users in a trial period go on to buy their own e-bike.

The benefits go beyond the bike shop and deeper into the local economy. 59% of redbike lowusers will choose to shop or visit restaurants based on their locality to docking stations. High Street business? You should be campaigning for a dock on your doorstep. What’s more, in Cincinnati’s case, it’s almost an equal number of men and women hiring the bikes, so entire town centres are set to gain.

“Red Bike has gotten off to a dream start. We will work to continue providing the highest quality and most fun transportation option in Cincinnati,” said Leslie Maloney, president of the Red Bike board of directors.

This article has now been added to our Cycling Advocacy Resource – a library of information for use by the cycling campaigner when building a case for active travel in their region.