Bike Sharing - How it Works
by Sue Basko, esq.
You're in a city and you see people ride by on bikes, many of which seem to match. Then you notice bike stations with racks (called bike docks) and kiosks. You see people pick out a bike and ride off. What is this? It's Bike Sharing!
Bike Sharing is popular throughout the world. Bike Sharing combines two of my favorite things - bicycles and the sharing economy. Each year, more cities add Bike Sharing programs and the existing programs add more stations and bikes.
Here is a list of North American cities that have Bike Sharing programs:
And here is a worldwide map showing which cities have Bike Sharing:
Bike Sharing programs have different rules and prices in each city. However, there is a shared commonality among almost all the programs. This is how it works:
1. THE BIKES MATCH. All the Bikes in a city are the same. The seat heights can be adjusted. Most of the bikes are sturdy and somewhat heavy. The bikes have a front basket or rack with a bungee cord. The bikes have lights that go on by themselves. You can tell the Shared Bikes going past on the street because they will all be the same distinctive color. Bike Shares buy expensive bicycles that are valued at $1000 to $1500 per bike.
2. BIKE STATIONS. Bike Share programs have Bike Stations that have a kiosk and bike docks. The kiosk is a computer screen on which the users buy a daily membership, choose a bike, report any bike malfunctions, etc. The Bike Stations are self-serve and automatic. There are no workers present, though most Bike Share programs have a phone number where a customer service person can be reached. Each bike is locked securely into a bike dock. A bike may be taken from any bike station and returned to that same bike station or to any other bike station.
3. SHORT RIDES. The object of Shared Bikes is to provide bikes for short rides, such as errands or commutes to and from a train, university, shopping center, or tourist attractions. Therefore, the system works such that all short rides are included in one price. That "short ride" might be defined as 30 minutes, 40 minutes, or one hour. You need to check the Bike Sharing program you are using.
4. ONE PRICE FOR ALL THE SHORT RIDES YOU CAN TAKE. Most Bike Share programs allow a user to join for 24 hours, or for one month, or for one year. Included in that price are all the short rides you care to make. When the short ride time limit is up, you must return the bike to any dock location at any station. You must then wait a minute or two and you can check out a different bike, if you like. You could, in theory, spend your day taking short bike rides, and this would cost you one price. If any bike ride you take exceeds the "Short Ride" time limit for that city, you are billed for the extra time.
5. EXAMPLES: These are imaginary examples that are typical approximations of times and prices. Let's say Fun City has a bike share program with 100 stations throughout the city, with 1200 bikes total. In Fun City, you can buy a 24 hour Bike Share pass for $10 or a yearly Bike Share pass for $75.
If you buy the 24 hour pass at noon, you have until noon the next day to use the bikes. You can check out a bike and take as many short bike rides as you like. Let's say Fun City has a 30 minute short ride limit. You can check out a bike, and as long as you re-dock the bike at any bike station within 30 minutes, it is included in the daily price. You can then wait a few minutes and take out another bike, if you like. Or you can go for a short ride in the morning, another short ride in the evening, and several short rides the following morning. If you are walking down a street and see a bike station and the mood suits you, you can take a bike.
If you keep the bike for longer than 30 minutes (or whatever the short ride limit is in that city) on any given ride, you will be billed extra for that. As an example, it might be an extra $2 for the time period between 30-60 minutes.
6. BIKE SHARING YEAR MEMBERSHIP: If you join a Bike Sharing program for a month (if available) or a year, you will be given a thick plastic "key" which you will insert into a bike dock to unlock any bike. This is much quicker than a daily membership, where you must choose a bike number at the kiosk. You just walk up to any bike, put in the key, pull the bike from the dock, adjust the seat, and ride away. With a Bike Share yearly membership, you can take as many Short Ride trips as you like for one year. You might take 3 trips per day or 3 trips per month. Users are encouraged to use the Shared Bikes as much as they like.
7. CREDIT OR DEBIT CARD NEEDED. To join a Bike Share, you need a debit or credit card. Fees for keeping the bike longer than the Short Ride limit are charged to the card. In some cities, only one bike can be taken out per credit card. Other cities allow multiple bikes to be taken on one card.
8. NOT FOR CHILDREN. Bike Share programs are not designed for children. Most cities limit use of Bike Share bikes to people age 16 and up. The bikes are the size and design for an adult rider.
9. BIKE SHARE APPS. Many Bike Share programs have apps for a smart phone that show the locations of bike stations and how many bikes are available at that station. Bike Share programs also have websites that have interactive maps showing stations and bike availability.
10. BRING YOUR OWN HELMET. You need to bring your own helmet and anything else you might need for your ride.