The Economic Benefits of Bike Sharing

New research shows how bike share schemes can benefit the urban economy

Discussions around the positive effects of bike sharing often focus on environmental sustainability and the personal health benefits experienced by users. When new bike share schemes are introduced, there’s often a reference to the “greening” of the city; ideally, more bikes can equal fewer cars, which leads to a reduction in greenhouse gases and an improvement in local air quality. Other times, city authorities and bike share operators highlight the private health benefits of daily biking, which can help locals to lead healthier, more active lives.

These are, of course, some of the most important benefits of public bike sharing. Who doesn’t want cleaner, healthier cities? However, not much has been explored in regard to how bike share schemes can positively impact the urban economy as well. In a new article titled “The economic contribution of public bike-share to the sustainability and efficient functioning of cities,” (2016) authors Bullock, Brereton, and Bailey of University College Dublin conducted extensive research to reveal some of these unexpected economic benefits.

Impact on businesses and neighborhoods

The article refers to research from Buehler and Hamre (2014), who did a comprehensive study on what effects bike sharing has on local businesses at the neighborhood level. That project examined 140 businesses within 0.1 miles from a Capital Bike Share station in the Washington, D.C. area. The research concluded that business owners and managers had a generally positive attitude toward public bike sharing. 70% reported a positive impact on neighborhoods due to greater access to these areas. In addition, 16% of bike share users reported that they engaged in new spending at these neighborhood businesses because of the access provided by bike sharing. In short, for both businesses and consumers, bike share systems seem to have a positive effect on business activity due to increased accessibility within local neighborhoods.

Reduced expenditure on healthcare

Bullock, Brereton, and Bailey write, “Cycling is a recommended means of physical exercise which provides private benefits to the individual, but also contributes to improved public health and reduced expenditure on healthcare.” The article cites WHO, which reports that inactivity, and the health issues related to it, creates a significant cost to developed countries. Therefore, offering city dwellers a transportation method that also provides physical activity could benefit the economy by providing savings on healthcare. The article also suggests that cycling to and from work can contribute to a more personally productive workday, since the exercise is done in association with work, as opposed to exercise done during leisure time. While the economic effects of bike sharing’s health benefits are of course difficult to quantify, the research indicates that, overall, using an active method of commute like biking, even for a short time each day, can lead to a healthier population, and therefore a healthier, more productive workforce.

More efficient cities create more effective economies

After analyzing data and conducting surveys among users of Dublin’s bike share system dublinbikes, the article’s primary conclusion is that the integrative and time-saving qualities of bike sharing are the clearest example of how these schemes can benefit a city’s economic culture. The authors argue that by making work commutes more efficient, cities and urban economies ultimately become more productive. The research frequently points to bike sharing not as a stand-alone method of transit, but as a critical connective element of urban mobility. Bike share systems address capacity constraints in cities by decreasing journey times and increasing workers’ access to the city, including so-called “last mile-first mile” trips. Giving workers greater and more time-efficient access to the city can, the authors conclude, provide improved access to more suitable or higher-paying jobs. In short, removing certain mobility constraints can allow for greater participation in the urban labor force.

In addition, the presence of bike share schemes can make the workday itself more productive. The authors refer to “in-work trips” such as those to and from meetings within the city center, where the time savings offered by biking “can be used productively as working time.” The article also discusses the concept of agglomeration, which is the collection of businesses, industries, and government operations in close proximity to one another in the city center. This compactness allows for more efficient economic activity, and bike sharing is a cost-and-time-effective way to provide mobility within these dense economic centers. This fills a difficult gap in city-center transportation. By allowing economic players to collaborate more effectively, bike sharing enhances the city’s economic productivity.

The authors summarize their research by writing, “The fundamental source of these benefits is the gain to productivity that arises from the positive relationship between journey time, urban compactness, employment, and economic activity.” Bike share systems provide greater transportation options, including filling the gaps of other transit methods. They also grant greater access to neighborhood and city-center business activities. Overall, this article shows how the improvements to urban mobility offered by bike sharing helps create a healthier workforce and a more interactive, competitive economy.

Source: Craig Bullock, Finbarr Brereton, and Sive Bailey. “The economic contribution of public bike-share to the sustainability and efficient functioning of cities.” Sustainable Cities and Societies. Vol. 28, January 2017, pages 76–87.

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