What can cycling do for public transport?

At the UITP Global Public Transport Summit in Montréal last week, Johan Høgåsen-Hallesby, CTO of Urban Infrastructure Partner (UIP) was one of the presenters during Monday’s workshop, titled “What can cycling do for public transit?”

Joining an esteemed group of experts in urban mobility, including Jay Walder, the CEO of Motivate, the speakers offered different perspectives on how biking fits into urban mobility. One of the most resonant themes of the event was how the integration of bike sharing into other systems of transportation is one of the best ways to achieve efficient and effective mobility in growing urban areas.

UIP was particularly enthusiastic about having their ideas represented in this dialogue; after all, creating integrated mobility solutions through sharing technologies is a fundamental element of the company’s approach to urban infrastructure. Høgåsen-Hallesby’s presentation, titled “Minding the gaps — understanding the role of bike sharing in public transport,” summarized some of the ways in which UIP has been solving these challenges.

A large part of the success of UIP’s first bike share platform, Oslo City Bike, has been the system’s role as a connective element of mobility in Oslo. UIP has achieved this though the service’s user-focused identity and technology-driven operations. In his presentation, Høgåsen-Hallesby defined three main focus points for the company’s strategy:

  1. User behavior. As smartphone-based services have matured over the past ten years, there’s a growing expectancy for transportation to be on-demand. That means users are now less dependent on schedules and fixed pick-up points like bus stops.
  2. Technology. Bike sharing is coming of age in a market space that’s reached almost full smart-phone penetration, allowing users to access bikes in an integrated, on-demand way. The rollout of narrowband cellular networks in the next few years will prove to be an equally transformative technology for the actual bikes and for the system. This will allow for a fleet of connected devices that require very little power.
  3. Data. Every movement in the system, such as user requests and transactions, generates a data point. With advancements in machine learning techniques and real-time analysis, the prediction modeling is dramatically improving. This allows transport systems and city planners to better integrate different methods of mobility.

Combining these elements, as UIP does, has the potential to create a transformation in the way people think about city transport. The model is shifting from one where city dwellers adapt themselves to the transit system, to a scenario where the system responds and adapts to the individual’s behavior. Combining that shift in mindset with the movement toward less station-dependent shared bikes reveals a fundamental change in what role bike sharing can play for public transport as a whole.

“Bike sharing as part of public transport is more than just the typical first and last mile that everyone talks about,” Høgåsen-Hallesby explains. “It’s more interesting if you think of public transport as a kind of mesh which has holes and gaps in it. Bikes are really good for filling or patching those holes, which makes the whole mobility offer a lot better.”

Critical to inserting bike trips into these so-called gaps is making the user feel as if hopping on a bike is a seamless component of their daily mobility. “Typically when you talk about intermodality, you talk about a bus then a train, but in reality it doesn’t just start here and end there; it’s overlapping. And that might shift during the day depending on the user. I like thinking about that organic nature of it,” continues Høgåsen-Hallesby.

With Oslo City Bike, UIP took this kind of user-focused approach by creating effortless, intuitive technology and incorporating a human element into the design and functioning of the system. One important part of this is providing opportunities for two-way communication within the bike sharing experience. Just like one might walk up to a bus driver to ask a question, the Oslo City Bike app allows for real-time chatting with the customer experience team.

While bike sharing schemes were once a mere novelty for cities, they’re becoming recognized as a transport method with much greater and more complex potential than what was previously thought. In this recently published research on bike share connectivity, authors Griffin and Sener write, “Though many bike share systems are under development throughout the world, many opportunities exist to improve their planning and integration with transportation systems at the regional and neighborhood levels.”

Høgåsen-Hallesby explains, “In the tech world, you talk about handovers, where you ask, how do you solve the whole issue of moving from one type of transportation to the other, and knowing when that should happen? Do we direct someone to a bike or a bus? What’s best for the city, what’s best for her, and what’s best for the economy? All these principles we have should dictate how we do handovers to meet different transportation needs.”

Oslo City Bike is integrated with RuterReise, Oslo’s public transit app

It is this approach that sets UIP’s operations apart from the rest, which Høgåsen-Hallesby highlighted during his presentation at the UITP conference. While many bike share platforms have, and continue to, focus more closely on the number of bikes they have out on the streets, UIP is placing greater importance on the number of trips that the bike share system is actually able to achieve. The result? An average of 9.8 trips per shared bike each day in Oslo. This focus on real mobility, rather than just the novelty factor, is what has made Oslo City Bike one of the most efficient bike share schemes in the world.

By focusing on user behavior, technology and data, this kind of integration has the potential to create an urban culture where the movement of people shapes the city, and not the other way around. Bike sharing provides an alternative transit method that fills the gaps left by other systems, contributing many cities’ ultimate goal: a symbiotic model of urban mobility.