Understanding the Potential of e-bikes

When we first integrated JUMP Bikes into the Uber platform, we didn’t know how offering the option to rent a bike — right from the Uber app — would change people’s habits and impact the way they choose to get around. In July, with only 250 e-bikes* on the road, we saw that some early users chose to ride a JUMP bike instead of riding in an Uber during times of peak congestion.

Given these encouraging early results, we wanted to take an expanded look at this idea, but focused on scale. What if dockless e-bikes were readily available in a given city? How many trips would transition to bikes, and how would that impact congestion and pollution levels in the city?

We commissioned a report from Steer Group, a leading global transport consulting firm, to estimate the potential impact of dockless e-bike system, operating at scale, in two flagship urban centers — Greater London and New York City. The study estimates the number of trips that could potentially switch from existing modes to e-bikes and the impact of this switch on congestion and emissions. It uses a ‘switchable trips’ methodology Steer developed in conjunction with Transport for London to assess underlying potential.

The report, which you can find in full here, has some exciting findings.

Based on current trip patterns, the study estimates that 813,000 daily trips in Greater London and 1 million trips in New York City could switch to shared e-bikes, if the city had a full scale e-bike share program in place along with the needed infrastructure, like bike lanes and charging stations. At these trip numbers, shared e-bikes would represent 4.7% and 3.8% of total travel in the two cities respectively. This is roughly two and three times higher than current cycle mode share in Greater London and New York City respectively. Though these e-bike estimates look large, it would still be a small fraction of conventional cycling mode share seen in cities like Amsterdam, where it represents 48% [1] of total travel, and Copenhagen, where it represents 29% [2].

The report also estimates that for Greater London this would lead to 21,000 fewer hours spent in traffic and 184 fewer metric tons of CO2 emissions every day. For New York City, it would mean 25,000 fewer hours spent in traffic and 300 fewer metric tons of CO2 emissions daily.

While the estimates are promising for cities looking to solve air quality issues and manage congestion, a lot of work would need to happen to make this a reality. The report estimates that anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 e-bikes would be required to meet this demand in New York, and 81,000 to 163,000 in London.

Both London and New York (as well as other cities around the world) have already made leaps forward to expand cycling infrastructure. To help do our part, we’ve committed to support initiatives that create cycle friendly cities as part of a larger campaign recently announced that you can read about here.

While this study focuses on London and New York, the results are relevant for cities across the globe. The findings point to something broader about the potential future of urban transportation: if done right in close partnership between the public and private sector, there’s enormous potential for e-bikes to radically transform cities for the better, making them both more equitable and more sustainable.

* The number of JUMP e-bikes in San Francisco has since increased to 500.

[1] Knowledge Institute for Mobility Policy, 2017 data

[2] Cycling Embassy Denmark, Copenhagen City of Cyclists — Facts and Figures 2017