How Electric Bikes Are Changing the Game for Urban Mobility

Caroline Samponaro
4 min readFeb 28, 2019

Lyft acquired Motivate because we’re big believers in bikeshare. We know that bikeshare, as a sustainable mode of transportation, has a vital role in getting people out of single-occupancy vehicles.

It’s clear that people love bikeshare when it’s convenient and available. Last year, there were more than 29 million trips on one of our bikeshare systems. But if we’re going to make a long-term impact on creating sustainable cities, we need a step change in the way people think about shared, sustainable modes — including bikeshare.

We need to greatly expand the number of people using bikeshare and the ways and frequency with which they are using it. Instead of a last-mile connection or a recreational option, bikeshare needs to be the preferred mode of commuting for millions of us. We’re not there yet: About 80 percent of Citi Bike trips are shorter than 20 minutes, whereas the average New York City area commute is 36 minutes. We need to be able to bridge that gap.

That’s where electric bikes come in. A truly transformational technology, these bikes hold the promise to take urban transportation into a new era. By boosting riders’ own pedal power, electric bikes allow riders to get further, faster and with ease. What was once a long trip — too long to consider biking — becomes short. What was once an arduous climb over a bridge or a hill becomes an easy zoom upwards. What didn’t seem easy, possible or affordable now is.

To date, we’ve only deployed electric bikes on a relatively small scale in select cities. That’s about to change, because of the results we’ve seen. The early data hints at the enormous potential:

  • So far, we’ve piloted electric bikes in our bikeshare networks in the Bay Area, New York City and Washington DC area. Altogether, riders have pedaled more than 912,000 trips on electric bikes since our pilots began.
  • Electric bikes are getting extremely high usage: over the course of the Citi Bike pilot, each pedal assist bike saw about 15 rides per day, compared to about five for each classic bike. One particularly popular electric Citi Bike was ridden 61 times in one day, traveling between Fort Greene, East Harlem, Long Island City, Morningside Heights and more neighborhoods.
  • People are riding electric bikes to go longer distances. Even though riders haven’t been able to rely on widespread electric bike availability during the pilot phase, data shows that they are already completing longer trips on electric bikes. In the pilot markets, the average electric bike trip is at least 10 percent further than the average classic bike trip. In the Citi Bike network, riders on electric bikes completed a 33 percent larger share of long trips between two and four miles.
  • People are riding electric bikes over bridges and up hills. In New York City, riders are twice as likely to ride an electric bike compared to a classic bike over one of the steep East River bridges between boroughs. In San Francisco, riders are using electric bikes to reach the highest-elevation stations. GoBike riders are twice as likely to complete a trip with 100–200 feet of elevation gain on an electric bike compared to a classic bike.
  • Electric bikes help to combat seasonal ridership decreases in New York’s colder months. While classic bikes saw a 60 percent decrease in trips per bike per day from October 1st through mid-February, the average daily trips per electric bike held steady at around 15.
  • Riders overwhelmingly approve of pedal-assist bikes: 90 percent of Citi Bike riders reported being satisfied or extremely satisfied with the new bikes.

This new technology does mean new operational challenges: electric bikes need fully charged batteries. As our technology teams work hard to innovate charging, we are hiring more people to swap batteries and using learnings from the pilot programs to make those operations efficient.

We believe electric bikes have the potential to make our bikeshare communities more inclusive, for older people and people who are less fit. We also believe in sensible regulations around electric bikes that make them available to everyone who needs them, including working cyclists in New York City.

You know Lyft as a rideshare company, so it might be surprising to hear this: we truly believe electric bikes will become a real alternative to rides in cars, and we’re excited about that. Bikeshare is a natural extension of Lyft’s vision to improve transportation access, sustainability and affordability. We want the members of our community to get where they are going quickly and easily, and it’s very clear that electric bikes are the next great way to do that.