NYC and Chicago have same bike-share problem

Divvy bike programYesterday’s New York Times ran a story about New York City’s difficulties maintaining a balance at the docking stations for its three-month-old bike-share program.  The problem is two-fold: not enough bikes outside near people’s homes in the morning, and not enough spaces to park the bikes near workplaces.

I read this story this morning and, coincidentally, saw the problem first hand in Chicago: A rider pulled up to the Divvy bike station outside my office, but the station was completely full. He just rode off, probably in search of an empty spot.

Currently, both New York and Chicago rely on trucks or vans to pick up bikes from full stations and move them to empty stations. The Times article explains that New York is planning to step up its efforts to provide better balance. The city has leased more spaces to store bikes near popular stations, and the program also is increasing its number of larger trucks, hiring more bike-moving employees, and introducing bike trailers (“bikes that can haul a small number of other bikes attached to them, to negotiate congested areas in which trucks can become snarled in traffic”). This issue of balancing is so crucial to these types of shared mobility programs that academic research is being conducted on how best to manage costs.

A few commentators on the Times article had interesting ideas, suggesting an incentive program where riders could get credit to their account, or even just points on the program’s app, for finding and docking at empty stations. This suggestion is backed by the earlier-mentioned research, which concluded that “it is possible to trade off reward payouts to customers against the cost of hiring staff to reposition bicycles, in order to minimize operating costs for a given desired service level.” But it might not be necessary, according to commentator David Martin from Paris, who explained the situation there: “Here in Paris, it was an issue during the first year or two, but not now. They figured it out. I really think New York will too. I imagine that the system in NY is computerized, so they have usage data. They can study the problem by looking at the usage data, then figure out solutions. It takes time, but it can be done.” What do you think?

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