Bicycle Sharing – about, types, pros and cons

Bikesharing schemes enable users to access bikes on an as-needed basis in urban areas. This can facilitate the use of cycling rather than other non-sustainable modes of transport. Bike sharing stations are usually accessible at all hours, making them an effective on-demand solution. They can be public, or site/location-based.

• Bikesharing schemes enable users to access bikes at all hours on an as-needed basis in rural areas.

• The success rate of bikesharing schemes is varied – and many factors play a part in how
successful the scheme will be, including demographics and local geography.

• They can be public, or site-based, and are usually paid for ‘by the hour’.

• They can make the option of cycling easier to people who don’t own bicycles, and therefore facilitate more sustainable and healthy behaviour.

Shaheen et al. (2015) define bikesharing as a system which “allow users to access bicycles on an as-needed basis from a network of stations, which are typically concentrated in urban areas. Bikesharing stations are usually unattended and accessible at all hours, granting an on-demand mobility option. In these systems, the operators are typically responsible for bicycle maintenance, storage, and parking costs”. Shaheen et al. (2015) further distinguish between the following types of bikesharing systems:

  • Public bikesharing. This refers to schemes where anyone is able to access a bicycle for a nominal fee (with a credit/debit card on file).
  • Closed campus bikesharing. These are deployed at university and office campuses, and they are only available to the particular campus community they serve.

P2P bikesharing: These are available in urban areas for bike owners to rent out their idle bikes for others to use. To the best of our knowledge, there are no quantitative assessments of avoided emissions following the introduction of bikesharing system. An important complication is that one should not just consider only the avoided emissions due to the displaced trips per motorized mode, but also the emissions caused by the repositioning bicycle over the day. Fishman (2016) considers the assessment of the effects on emissions to be one of the priority areas for further research.

Pros of Bike-Sharing Systems

Bikesharing may bring more benefits to the users than the obvious ones. In a study on the health impacts of the bicycle sharing system in London, Woodcock et al. (2014) have estimated the “(c)hange in lifelong disability adjusted life years (DALYs) based on one year impacts on incidence of disease and injury, modelled through medium term changes in physical activity, road traffic injuries, and exposure to air pollution.” Their main conclusion was that “London’s bicycle sharing system has positive health impacts overall, but these benefits are clearer for men than for women and for older users than for younger users. The potential benefits of cycling may not currently apply to all groups in all settings.” The findings of other studies confirm that the actual benefits depend on which travel mode is replaced by bikesharing (Fishman, 2016).

Concerning the specific issue of traffic safety, “the levels of serious injury and fatality have been lower than many predicted (…) and some evidence has now emerged to suggest that bikeshare may even be safer than riding private bikes, although the precise mechanisms leading to such an effect require further research.” (Fishman, 2016). One possible explanation is the “safety in numbers phenomenon”, which would then be an external benefit of bikesharing. However, this remains speculative. Other reasons include the design of the bicycles used in shared systems, more cautious behaviour by bikesharing users compared to other cyclists and the public infrastructure improvements that usually go hand in hand with the introduction of bikesharing systems (see Martin et al., 2016).

One of the challenges facing bikeshare systems is that, over the day, the distribution of bicycles over docking stations may become unbalanced. Several authors have studied how station activity can be affected by factors such as the weather, the presence of restaurants, and the topography of the city (Fishman, 2016).

The need to rebalance docking stations by dedicated trucks or vans can reduce the environmental and congestion benefits of the system (although we are not aware of studies quantifying these effects). Therefore, some authors have investigated the possibility of providing users with price incentives to redistribute bikes. However, during weekdays, the potential for this type of incentive remains limited (Fishman, 2016).

Positives for Policy Makers

While the issue of logistics is an important challenge, it is also an example of a complex problem that has been reduced to manageable proportions thanks to recent developments in ICT. State-of-the-art bikesharing systems record in real-time how many cycles and docks are available in each station. These data can be used for (Romanillos et al., 2016):

  • The identification of spatial-temporal patterns, relating the use of different stations to clusters of activity during a weekday.
  • The development of predictive models to forecast cycle demand.

This information can be useful, both for users and for the operators of the system.


Fishman (2016) concludes his very recent review of the literature by some considerations on further directions for practice and research:

  • Installing GPS on shared bicycles may reduce the need for physical docking stations, and may help operators in the “task of re-distributing bicycles across their fleet via the use of real-time tracking”. The data provided by the GPS may also be useful for general transport planning purposes.
  • E-bikes could expand the market to new segments of the population, and reduce the barriers linked to trip length and excessive heat. Moreover, because they reduce the difficulties caused by a city’s topography; e-bikes can also reduce the problems related to re-balancing in hilly cities.
  • Fishman argues that optimising fleet-rebalancing, applying behavioural economics to change behaviour and a better understanding of the profile of non-users are high on the list of future research needs. He also points to the absence of standard methodology to measure the impacts of bikeshare “in terms of climate change, congestion, air and noise quality, as well as health and time savings”.

Taking into account its low price (when compared to ownership), bike sharing could also help in the fight against “mobility poverty”. However, the requirement to pay with credit card could be a major impediment for the population segments that suffer most from “mobility poverty”. Moving back to cash payments could lower the barriers for those social groups .

  • Fishman, E. (2016), Bikeshare: A Review of Recent Literature, Transport Reviews, 36:1, 92-113, DOI: 10.1080/01441647.2015.1033036
  • Martin, E.,  Cohen, C., Botha., J. & Shaheen, S., 2016. Bikesharing and Bicycle Safety, MTI Report 12-54
  • Romanillos, G., Zaltz Austwick, M., Ettema D., & De Kruijf, J. (2016), Big Data and Cycling, Transport Reviews, 36:1, 114-133, DOI:10.1080/01441647.2015.1084067
  • Shaheen , S., Nelson D.  Chan, & Micheaux, H. (2015) One-way carsharing’s evolution and operator perspectives from the Americas. Transportation.  May 2015, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 519-536.  First online: 04 April 2015
  • Woodcock, J., Tainio, M., Cheshire, J., O’Brien, O., & Goodman, A. (2014). Health effects of the London bicycle sharing system: Health impact modelling study. BMJ, 348. doi:10.1136/bmj.g425

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