I want to start this post by sharing a little secret of mine. Perhaps it’s not a secret so much as an admission, but I think it’s relevant to the content of this post nonetheless.
Here goes – I have never used a bike sharing system. For starters, I’ve never lived in a city that had a bike sharing system, although the University of Arizona had one on campus called Cat Wheels. But since I rode my own bike to campus, I never found a need to borrow one once there to get around.
Furthermore, I’ve never tried one out when I’ve traveled to cities that do offer them. But still, given my dedication as a bike commuter, I did feel qualified enough to write a detailed post about bike sharing systems for Utility Cycling a few years ago.
Excuses, excuses. Anyhow, this is a rather round-about way of telling you I’m going to write more about bike sharing, even though I’ve never used it.
NPR’s Morning Edition is currently running a series on the daily commute. In a publicity email from NPR, they said, “Everyone with a job outside of the home has one thing in common, and they almost all dread it – the commute.” On Facebook, they said, “For most of us, commuting is kind of like death and taxes – an unfortunate, but inescapable necessity.” Sorry, I like you NPR, but let’s clarify — said no bike commuter ever.
Anyhow, I do like the topic of series on the daily commute despite the little publicity hiccup NPR sent to a bike commuting blog where, actually, almost everyone looks forward to the commute. Commenters, have at it if I’m wrong here. Maybe here the issue is that not many people look forward to actually getting to work, and for those that do, you might want to keep it to yourselves.
I digress. So yesterday’s story in the series – “Shifting Gears to Make Bike-Sharing More Accessible” – was dedicated to the topic of bike sharing as a form of commuting. Bike sharing systems are springing up in cities around the U.S. and the world, and they’ve arrived to a plethora of responses. I’ve heard people call them everything from “the best thing ever” to a “complete and utter travesty”. It is with joy, disgust, and apathy that bike sharing has come to the U.S.
NPR did a little digging into bike sharing systems, especially with regard to who actually uses them. Since this series is dedicated to how people get to work, it would be helpful to figure out who it is exactly that uses bike sharing systems to get to work or just to get around.
Honestly, what NPR found out isn’t terribly surprising – white, middle to high income men tend to be the most common demographic for bike share users. This just about parallels the bike commuting demographic in general. I’m making this statement somewhat anecdotally, but if you feel inclined, you can go data hunting here.
This isn’t the case everywhere, however, and the geographer in me was pleased to see that the issue of location was brought up. It matters where bike share docking stations are located, and location can have an impact on the demographics of the users.
Of course, other factors such as price, access to credit cards, and I would argue, other deeper rooted social and cultural issues dictate who is likely (or not) to use a bike share. There isn’t equality in commuting, in general, in the U.S., so it comes as no surprise that this issue is similar for bike sharing systems, as well.
Nonetheless, these trends are changing. And with outreach in cities like New York, which is running public meetings and distributing helmets, the demographics will continue to change for bike sharing and bike commuting more broadly. Because as Caroline Samponaro at Transportation Alternatives in NYC mentioned to Morning Edition, people are saying how much using a bike share improved their commute and brought them some joy and fitness, and she “thinks those things shouldn’t be luxury items.”
Meanwhile, I don’t see much bike sharing in my near future, but I like the idea of it anyhow!